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Officers could face death penalty in Katrina killings

four police officers accused of gunning down two unarmed people in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina could face death themselves.

The officers who could face the death penalty were charged along with two others in a 27-count indictment unsealed yesterday.

Five former New Orleans police officers have already pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shootings on the Danziger Bridge that left two men dead and four wounded just days after the August 2005 hurricane. In one instance, a mentally disabled man was shot in the back and stomped on before he died.

Prosecutors say officers fabricated witness statements, falsified reports and planted a gun in an attempt to make it appear the shootings were justified. It was a shocking example of the violence and confusion that followed the storm.

With 80pc of New Orleans underwater, officers from a department with a history of corruption were forced to battle rampant crime, and some became criminals themselves.

Dozens of officers were fired or suspended for abandoning their post. In a separate case, an officer is charged with shooting a man whose body turned up in a burned-out car.

The latest indictments have also come shortly after the city's new mayor replaced its former police chief and invited a Justice Department team to overhaul the city's corruption-plagued police department, which already is the target of several federal investigations separate from the bridge shooting.

In the bridge shooting case, seven officers were charged with murder or attempted murder in December 2006 but a State judge threw out all the charges in August 2008. Federal authorities stepped in a month later to launch their own investigation.


Yesterday's indictment charges Sgts Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon with deprivation of rights under colour of law and use of a weapon during the commission of a crime. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

The case is one of several probes of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police officers that the Justice Department opened after the August 2005 storm. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is working with city officials to restore residents' trust in the police department.