Friday 24 November 2017

Five policemen convicted over killings after Katrina storm

Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans

A US federal jury yesterday convicted five police officers in the fatal shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman were convicted of charges stemming from the cover-up of the shootings.

All but Kaufman were convicted of civil rights violations stemming from the shootings. Kaufman, who investigated the shootings, was charged only in the cover-up.

However, the New Orleans jury didn't find that the shootings amounted to murder.

The mother of 17-year-old James Brissette, one of the people killed on the bridge, said she was relieved by the verdict after "a long, hard six years." But she was puzzled that the jury could conclude her son wasn't murdered.

"How are you able to empty a shotgun in the person and it's not murder?" Sherrel Johnson said.

Prosecutors had argued during trial that Faulcon fired the "kill shot" from a shotgun, striking James in the head.

Sentencing was tentatively scheduled for December 14. Kaufman remains free on bail until he is sentenced. The other four officers are already jailed and face possible life prison sentences.

The trial was a high-profile test of the US Justice Department's effort to clean up a police department marred by corruption and brutality.

A total of 20 current or former New Orleans police officers were charged last year in a series of federal probes. Most of the cases centre on actions during the aftermath of the August 29, 2005, storm, which plunged the flooded city into a state of lawlessness and desperation.

"This was a critical verdict. I cannot overstate the importance of this verdict. The power, the message it sends to the community, the healing power it has," Attorney Jim Letten said .

Prosecutors contended during the five-week federal trial that officers shot unarmed people without justification and without warning, killing two and wounding four others on September 4, 2005, then embarked on a cover-up involving made-up witnesses, falsified reports and a planted gun.

Defence attorneys countered that the officers were returning fire and reasonably believed their lives were in danger as they rushed to respond to another officer's distress call less than a week after Katrina struck.

Irish Independent

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