Story Summary

Danziger Bridge shootings following Hurricane Katrina

NOPD Officers Tried In Danziger Bridge Shootings To Get a New TrialFive men – Arthur Kaufman, Anthony Villavaso, Robert Gisevius, Kenneth Bowen, and Robert Faulcon – who were all New Orleans Police officers at the time, allegedly shot at six people as they crossed the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, just days after Katrina. Two people were killed – Ronald Madison, 40, and James Brisette, 17 – and four others were seriously wounded in the shooting.

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08/08/11

Danziger Justice

The Danziger Bridge Trial is over.  Five current or former NOPD officers were found guilty of violating the civil rights of everyday New Orleans citizens.  Two of the victims were killed, four others were seriously injured, and another arrested after watching police kill his younger brother.

The five cops who came forward, Michael Lohman, Jeffrey Lehrmann, Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios, and Ignacious Hill, deserve a little credit.  They cooperated with the Feds and were key witnesses against their fellow officers.  But they also all deserve the jail time they are getting.

Remember, all of these cops were part of the initial coverup.  They should have come forward with the truth from the beginning.  They were part of this terrible crime.  As for the five cops on the Danziger Bridge that Saturday after Katrina, their fate is now sealed.

Robert Faulcon, Anthony Villavaso, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, and Arthur Kaufman will all be going to jail for a long time.   Decades at the least for some while others will never see the light of day again, literally dying in jail.  And they deserve it.

Civil rights violations anywhere are unexceptable much less in a major American city.  And when the cops are the ones doing the violating, swift justice must be served.

U.S Attorney Jim Letton said it best about the police who acted wrongly on the bridge.  They abused the power that they were sworn to use to protect and defend us. They killed two citizens.  One mentally impaired and another just 17 years old.  Ronald Madison and James Brissette deserved a lot better treatment from our police than they received.

The Danziger trial is over.  And as James Brissette’s mom said late last week from the federal court house steps, with U.S Attorney Jim Letton at her side, “Justice has been served.”

The jury in the Danziger Bridge police shooting trial handed up guilty verdicts on Friday morning, two days after starting deliberations for five former and current New Orleans Police officers.

The officers are guilty of violating the civil rights of six civilians who were shot as they crossed the bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, just days after Katrina. Two people were killed, Ronald Madison, 40, and James Brisette, 17, and four others were seriously wounded in the shooting.

Prosecutors proved to the jury that officers abused their authority in the shootings and then conspired to cover up their actions, even planting guns and fabricating witnesses to the shooting. However, jurors did not find that the officers’ actions amounted to murder.

Jurors have listened to testimony for six weeks. Federal District Judge Kurt Engelhardt read lengthy instructions to the jury on Wednesday morning, outlining how jurors should delibertate on the case.

Each defendant faced at least 10 counts, ranging from depravation of rights, to using a weapon under the color of law, to conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Jurors found the officers guilty on almost every count against them. Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso have been in custody since their arrest. Arthur Kaufman is free on bail.

Five other officers have already pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the bridge shooting and are cooperating with prosecutors.

Outside of court, family members of Ronald thanked prosecutors, the Metropolitan Crime Commission and the media for keeping the case in the public’s mind.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu released a statement on Friday afternoon championing the verdict.

“The verdicts in the Danziger Bridge trial provide significant closure to a dark chapter in our city’s history. We now have an opportunity to turn the page and to heal,” Landrieu’s statement said. “With these verdicts, the American justice system delivered a clear message that no one stands above the law and that police abuse and misconduct will not be tolerated.”

Each defendant faces a lengthy prison sentence. Sentencing is scheduled for December.

danziger-jury-visits-shooting-si-003The Danziger Jury took a field trip so to speak to the crime scene where two people were killed and four seriously wounded. This jury is considering the fates of five current and former New Orleans police officers accused of violating the civil rights of six civilians six days after Katrina.

“Both sides wanted to see the area and look at it in their own minds and see what may’ have transpired on the bridge,” said Defense Attorney Robert Jenkins.

The government contends the officers shot and killed unarmed civilians. Police argue they were just returning fire. The trial is in its fifth week. The defense is now putting on its case. Testimony resumes Wednesday.

danziger-bridgeIn extensive cross examination of the lead FBI investigator on the Danziger Bridge police shooting case on Tuesday, defense attorneys tried to counter testimony and secret recordings that the jury heard a day before.

Agent William Bezak, testified for the prosecution on Monday in the federal trial of six current and former NOPD officers who the government says violated the civil rights of people on the bridge in the days followingHurricane Katrina and covered up their actions. Two people were shot to death, and four others were seriously wounded on Sept. 4, 2005.

Eric Hessler, attorney for Sgt. Robert Gisevius, whose voice was on a secretly-recorded tape played in court on Monday, said the government did not go far enough in investigating the case. Had they investigated further, the feds would have considered there were other shooters underneath and beside the bridge, Hessler said in court.

According to Hessler, the impact points on where the bullets shattered the concrete could have been fired from a grassy area or from the side of the bridge, and the victims could have been caught in the crossfire.

Bezak countered that FBI experts concluded the shots that hit the bridge’s barriers and concrete came from the south or southeast, or from behind the victims

“I have no reason to believe the bullets came from the grassy area,” Bezak testified.

Next up to cross examine Bezak was Stephen London, attorney for Sgt. Arthur Kaufman. Kaufman is accused of falsifying police reports to protect the officers.

Bezak testified Monday that Kaufman gave him fake witness names, including a witness named “Lakeisha Smith”.

Bezak testifiesd he checked the FBI database for anyone named Lakeisha Smith who could have been in the New Orleans area near the time of Hurricane Katrina.

London asked, “You looked for Lakeisha Smith?”

“Yes sir,” Bezak answered. “Of all of the Lakeisha Smiths in the age range likely in the New Orleans area at that time, about 10 or 11.”

According to the indictment, Kaufman made up the witness.

London indicated that Lakeisha Smith does exist, and he told Bezak that she lived just a block or two from the Family Inn, which sits at the foot of the Danziger Bridge.

The courtroom will be closed on Wednesday, but Bezak will be back on the stand for more defense cross examination on Thursday morning.

danziger-officersFederal Bureau of Investigation Agent William Bezak, who was in charge of investigating the shootings of six victims on the Danziger Bridge, took the stand for the prosecution on Monday in the federal trial of six current and former NOPD officers.

The officers are accused of violating the civil rights of people on the bridge, two of whom died and four who were seriously wounded, and covering up their actions following the shooting on Sept. 4, 2005.

In court Bezak said he knew police officers he interviewed about the case lied to him, and he specifically mentioned defendant Arthur Kaufman. Kaufman was the lead NOPD investigator of the incident.

Bezak said he was suspicious of the gun found on the scene, especially because it was found a day later. In the trial thus far, prosecutors have shown evidence and talked to witnesses who assert that Kaufman planted a gun on the bridge.

Bezak also testified said Kaufman’s story about a witness to the shooting who allegedly saw Ronald Madison reach into his pocket and turn toward police did not seem correct.

Bezak said Kaufman gave the FBI the name of a witness ‘Lakeisha Smith’. Bezak testified he searched all of the FBI’s databases and has never been able to find Smith.

The jury also listened to a series of secretly-recorded conversations from 2009 between former Lt. Jeffrey Lehrman, who turned state’s evidence, and Sgt. Robert Gisevius. Bezak prepped Lehrman for the conversation.

On the recording, Gisevius sounded concerned that someone was giving information to investigators that could bring down the original seven officers arrested in the case.

On the tape that was loaded with obscenities, Gisevius said, “who the f**k do you think the leak is? I think it’s homicide. It was all f****d up time.”

Lehrmann suggested it could be Kaufman.

Gisevius answered, “But he would not sink his own ship.”

New Orleans defense attorney Robert Jenkins, who is following the case closely, said even as the prosecution’s case reaches an end, Monday’s testimony still made an impression on jurors.

“It was a strong day in terms of them summarizing their case and chiefly what happnened,” Jenkins said. “And when you play those videos—I mean the actual video of what happened–along with the testimony, the government has put on a very powerful case.”

There are two more prosecution witnesses listed for Tuesday.

danziger-bridge-1A government expert witness testified one of the victims in the Danziger police shooting case was already dead, yetofficers fired on him at least three more times, that from Renowned Forensic  Pathologist Dr. Vincent DiMaio.

Dr. Dimaio told the jury 17 year old James Brissette was first shot in the back of the head as he tried to take cover behind a barricade along the pedestrian walk way on the Danziger Bridge six days after Hurricane Katrina.

Dimaio said someone stood over Brissette and shot him three more times.

Brissette and 40 year old Ronald Madison were killed. Four others were seriously wounded.

The government was trying to show that at least the four officers standing trial fired on unarmed civilians who were no threat during the dark days of Katrina.

The officers contend they were returning fire, because they were being assaulted with shots fired at them.

So far in the three week long trial there’s been no evidence to support the victims fired on the officers.

Evidence has shown there was gun fire as they arrived on the scene, but not particularly aimed at them.

The defense will begin telling its side of the story next week.

danziger-bridge-2Trial continued on Wednesday for five former and current New Orleans Police officers for a shooting on the Danziger Bridge just days after Hurricane Katrina and an alleged cover-up in its aftermath.

Two people were killed and four others were seriously injured in the shooting. Louisiana State Police Crime Lab forensic scientist Patrick Lane took the stand to talk about evidence he analyzed from the scene.

Lane said 17-year old James Brisette, who was killed on the bridge, was shot by at least three officers.

Sergeants Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen and officers Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon fired their weapons multiple times on the Danziger Bridge, according to Lane.

He testified four casings were found that matched Faulcon’s shotgun. Faulcon is also accused of killing 40-year old Ronald Madison, who was shot seven times in the back.

Lane said that the bullets that hit James Brisette could be traced to Bowen’s AK-47 and the M4 rifle Gisevius allegedly carried.

The defense tried to challenge Lane’s credibility on cross examination, asking if he could have made a mistatke in matching the casings to the guns.

Lane answered, “In theory, that’s correct, but in reality, I’m correct.”

The trial of five former or current New Orleans Police Department officers accused of violating the civil rights of people crossing a bridge in the days following Hurricane Katrina continued Monday at federal court, with questioning of former Officer Jeffrey Lehrmann.

In his testimony, Lehrmann said he and others lied to cover up officers’ actions on the Danziger Bridge to avoid prosecution.

Lehrmann, now a government witness, testified “part of the cover up started with the planting of a gun.” Lehrmann said he first saw the revolver inside of a sandwich bag.

Lehrmann testified he asked Sgt. Arthur Kaufman what was in the bag, and Kaufman responded “a ham sandwich.”

Kaufman is facing 10 felony counts, including conspiracy and falsification of records.

Lehrmann testified he asked if the gun was clean, and Kaufman responded the gun was to be planted near the “B family,” as in the Bartholomew family. Several members of the Bartholomew family were shot by police on the bridge.

Lehrmann also told the court Kaufman initially told him that one of the officers shot an innocent man. According to Lehrmann, he was talking about Officer Robert Faulcon who allegedly shot Ronald Madison eight times in the back as Madison tried to run away.

On cross examination, defense attorney Steven London challenged Lehrmann’s assertions, instead trying to show that Lehrmann and former NOPD Lt. Michael Lohman came up with the cover stories.

Lohman pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice in February 2010 in this case.

London suggested Kaufman may have been on vacation when the reports and statements were taken.

Lehrmann testified he didn’t recall Kaufman taking a vacation.

London said, “Could he have?”

Lehrmann responded, “Anything is possible, I don’t recall.”

London pressed, “Is it possible he did?”

Lehrmann conceded, “It’s possible.”

The case continues Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. with more witnesses for the prosecution.

Lance MadisonQuestioning resumed Friday morning with prosecutors calling Lance Madison to the stand. Madison was on the Danziger Bridge with his mentally disabled brother, Ronald Madison.

Lance Madison recalls being at the top of the bridge. His brother had been shot. He remembers Ronald telling him, ” ‘Tell my mother, brothers and sisters I love them.’ Then he shook my hand.”

Lance Madison says he helped his brother get to the bottom of the bridge, sat him down, and went to find help, but he was arrested. Madison says he was hauled away for a month, never knowing his brother died.

Defense attorneys stressed Madison told people teenagers on the bridge were shooting. Madison said he wasn’t sure at the time.

“When I heard pop, pop; that’s when I looked around.” Madison says he saw teens running behind them and figured that’s where the shots came from.

He recalled seeing a truck pull up and more shots saying, “Had I known they were police I would have been dead because I would have stopped. They would have killed me.”

Also called to testify was Robert Rickman, who was staying at a nearby motel. He says he heard shots often and that day went outside.

Rickman says he saw Ronald Madison laying down by the canopy. “He wasn’t saying anything,” Rickman testified. “He was just laying there bleeding.”

He says he started taking pictures and an officer “at one point, some how he got the camera from me and stomped it.”

Rickman had a second camera and today jurors saw the images he snapped; pictures of bullets and Ronald Madison’s bloody body partially covered by a blue tarp.

Trial will resume Monday at 8:30 a.m.

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