THE US Justice Department charged six New Orleans police officers today in connection with a shooting and alleged cover-up that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Four officers - Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso -– allegedly opened fire on an unarmed family on the east side of Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four other people.
The officers had been responding to reports of looting and that someone was firing at police.
Minutes later, officers allegedly shot at two brothers, injuring 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who had severe mental disabilities. Officer Bowen allegedly kicked and stomped Madison, who later died at the scene.
Four other people were injured in the shootings.
The charges allege officers attempted to cover up the shootings by making them appear to have been justified.
Police arrested Madison’s brother, Lance, and charged him with eight counts of attempting to kill police officers. Lance Madison was held in jail for three weeks but was released without charge.
Two supervisors, Arthur Kaufman and Gerard Dugue, were charged today with conspiring to cover up the crimes. Mr Kaufman allegedly claimed a gun from his home was found at the bridge and fabricated witness statements.
He and Mr Dugue purportedly held a meeting in an abandoned New Orleans Police Department building, where homicide officers instructed the officers involved in the shooting to get their stories straight before giving formal statements on the incident.
Mr Kaufman and Mr Dugue are also accused of conspiring to have Lance Madison and Jose Holmes prosecuted on the basis of false evidence. Mr Holmes was part of the first group of alleged shooting victims.
Four of the men charged today were among seven officers indicted in December 2006 on charges of murder and attempted murder, USA Today reported. The charges were dismissed because of prosecutorial errors.
The four officers charged with killing civilians face maximum penalties of life in prison or the death penalty. Mr Kaufman faces a maximum penalty of 120 years in prison, while Mr Dugue faces a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison.
Five former New Orleans police officers have already admitted to participating in a cover-up of the shootings.