WASHINGTON –Six officers with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) were charged today in connection with the federal investigation of a police-involved shooting on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department announced today. The incident resulted in the death of two civilians and the wounding of four others.
The indictment charges four officers – Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso – in connection with the shootings, and charges those four officers and two supervisors – Arthur “Archie” Kaufman and Gerard Dugue – with helping to obstruct justice during the subsequent investigations.
The indictment alleges that officers Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso open fired on an unarmed family on the east side of the bridge, killing 17-year- old James Brissette, and wounding Susan Bartholomew, 38; Leonard Bartholomew III, 44; the Bartholomew’s daughter, Lesha, 17; and the Bartholomew’s nephew, Jose Holmes, 19. The Bartholomews’ 14-year-old son ran away from the shooting and was fired at, but was not injured.
The second shooting occurred minutes later on the west side of the bridge, where officers shot at brothers Lance and Ronald Madison, killing Ronald, a 40-year-old man with severe mental disabilities. The indictment alleges Faulcon shot Ronald Madison in the back as Ronald ran away. Bowen is charged with stomping and kicking Ronald Madison while Ronald was wounded, but not yet dead. Ronald later died at the scene.
“As our investigation of the Danziger Bridge incident shows, the Justice Department will vigorously pursue anyone who allegedly violated the law,” said Attorney General Holder. “Put simply, we will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who have sworn to protect the public.”
“In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans were relying upon law enforcement to protect publ ic safety. The officers indicted today are accused of abusing their power and violating their public trust. Today’s indictment exemplifies the department’s commitment to aggressively prosecute any officer who violates the law either by engaging in misconduct or a conspiracy to deny justice,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
“Today’s indictment should serve as compelling evidence of our unswerving and unconditional commitment to achieve essential goals: to achieve true justice for any victims of the charged killings, shootings and abuse on the Danziger Bridge, and the alleged corrupt cover-up that followed; to unmask and bring to justice those officers who according to the indictment abused their power in committing violent crimes against the unarmed citizens they were sworn to protect; to restore the trust in the men and women of law enforcement who do serve the people and honor the badge; and to make certain that no one should ever have to fear those whose job it is to protect them,” said Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
“The charges announced in today’s indictment show the commitment by the FBI to hold individuals who break the law accountable, regardless of their positions in a community or the circumstances under which the crimes occurred,” said Kevin L. Perkins, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“One year ago, FBI New Orleans made a commitment to dedicate all the necessary resources to ensure this matter was thoroughly and fairly investigated to a logical conclusion. Today’s indictments indicate that we continue to honor that commitment,” said David W. Welker, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office.
The four officers charged with killing civilians face maximum penalties of life in prison or the death penalty. The officers face additional penalties for the remaining counts, which include charges related to a conspiracy to cover up what had happened on the bridge, and conspiracies to file charges against two of the victims, Lance Madison and Jose Holmes, on the basis of false evidence.
According to the indictment, officers at the scene of the shooting arrested Lance Madison and charged him with eight counts of attempting to kill police officers. Officers collected no guns or shell casings on the day of the shooting, and 30 casings they collected more than a month later were allegedly fired by officers rather than civilians. Madison was held in jail for three weeks, but was eventually released without indictment.
The indictment accuses Kaufman and Dugue of joining the other four defendants in a conspiracy to cover up what had happened on the bridge and to make the shootings appear justified. Kaufman is charged with obtaining a gun from his home and claiming to have found the gun at the bridge on the day after the shooting, and with making up witnesses and then creating statements from the fictional witnesses to help justify the shooting. Kaufman and Dugue are also accused of holding a meeting, in an abandoned and gutted out NOPD building, at which homicide sergeants instructed officers involved in the shooting to get their stories straight before giving formal audiotaped statements about the shooting.
Kaufman and Dugue, who concluded in a formal report that the shooting was justified and that Lance Madison and Jose Holmes should be arrested, are also accused of conspiring with each other and with other officers to have Madison and Holmes prosecuted on the basis of false evidence.
Kaufman faces a maximum penalty of 120 years in prison, and Dugue faces a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison.
Today’s indictment follows guilty pleas from five former NOPD officers who admitted that they participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and cover up what happened on Sept. 4, 2005. The officers include former Lieutenant Michael Lohman, former detective Jeffrey Lehrmann, and former Officers Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios, and Ignatius Hills.
The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty
This case, which is ongoing, is being investigated by the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office, and is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Forrest Christian of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.