NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Four New Orleans police officers were charged Tuesday in the shooting deaths of two unarmed men on the Danziger Bridge and the wounding of four others, and the four officers and two others were charged with conspiring to cover up the killings in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina.
The grand jury indictment, unsealed Tuesday, states that the officers involved in the shootings had “specifically discussed using Hurricane Katrina to excuse failures in the investigation, and thereby to help make any inquiry into the shooting[s] go away.”
Charged in the shooting deaths are Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villaviso. Those four officers also are charged with conspiring in a coverup, along with Arthur Kaufman and Gerard Dugue.
Four of the six officers were in police custody Tuesday.
The indictment came after a 2-year federal investigation of the New Orleans Police Department’s actions after the 2005 hurricane.
Other instances of unarmed civilian deaths at the hands of police officers have also resulted in indictments, including the Sept. 2, 2005 shooting of a man in the New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers that resulted in his charred body being found in his burned car.
In the indictment unsealed Tuesday, four officers are charged with opening fire on two families on Sept. 4, 2005, as the families fled flooded New Orleans.
One man was killed from each family group. James Brisette, 17, was killed, and four members of the Bartholomew family were wounded. In the other group, officers shot Ronald Madison in the back and killed him, the indictment states. Madison, 40, had “severe disabilities,” according to the indictment.
According to the indictment, the officers drove onto the east side of the bridge in a Budget rental truck after receiving a call that officers nearby had been attacked with gunfire. As the officers drove onto the bridge, they opened fire on the Bartholomew family, killing 17-year-old James Brissette, a family friend, and wounding Susan Bartholomew, Leonard Bartholomew III, 17-year-old Lesha Bartholomew and 19-year-old Jose Holmes.
The officers then drove to the east side of the bridge where two adult brothers were crossing on foot. “An officer shot Ronald Madison in the back as Madison ran away,” according to the indictment.
The indictment adds that Officer Bowen, “while acting under color of law, kicked and stomped Madison while Madison was on the ground, alive but mortally wounded”.
The officers then arrested Ronald Madison’s brother, 49-year-old Lance Madison, and held him in custody for three weeks on charges of attempted murder.
Former New Orleans Police Lt. Michael Lohman pleaded guilty in February to his part in the coverup: allowing a gun to be planted at the scene and writing a series of false reports.
Without giving names, Lohman testified that he had encouraged officers to come up with a story to justify the shootings.
Lohman’s confession to conspiracy and coverup resulted in a flurry of speculation regarding the fate of officers who worked closely with Lohman.
According to Tuesday’s indictment, the two unnamed officers Lohman mentioned would were Bowen and Gisevius.
The indictment says the officers did not collect evidence from the scene for more than a month, and that immediately after the shooting, Arthur Kaufman became the lead investigator responsible for investigation of the shootings.
Between September 2005 and May 2006 Kaufman prepared numerous reports detailing the shootings. The indictment states that on Sept. 4, “and again on numerous occasions between then and January 2006, the officers involved in the Danziger Bridge shooting, led by defendants Kaufman, Bowen, and Gisevius, discussed and modified the stories they would tell about what happened on the bridge.”
The 32-page indictment states that the officers “specifically discussed using Hurricane Katrina to excuse failures in the investigation, and thereby to help make any inquiry into the shooting go away.”
According to the indictment, Kaufman planted a gun at the scene of the shooting and lied under oath at a hearing about Lance Madison.
According to the indictment, in May 2006 Kaufman and Gerard Dugue submitted a co-authored incident report to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. The report said that with the arrest of Lance Madison and the “imminent” arrest of Jose Holmes, the Danziger Bridge case was “considered solved.”
In 2008, according to the indictment, the state criminal investigation ended “with no findings as to any NOPD officer’s guilt or innocence, and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Officer deferred in the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),” which had been monitoring the state investigation.
The Times-Picayune reported that on Tuesday, FBI agents arrested Faulcon in Fresno, Texas, and had obtained warrants to arrest Bowen, Gisevius and Villavaso.
“However, after learning of Faulcon’s arrest, attorneys for the three other men accused of murder escorted their clients in unison to FBI headquarters in New Orleans, surrendering them to federal custody,” the newspaper reported.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said at a news conference that federal prosecutors will ask a federal magistrate judge today (Wednesday) to keep the four officers in custody until trial, saying they are a flight risk and a danger.