WASHINGTON – A federal jury today convicted five officers from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) on 25 counts in connection with the federal prosecution of a police-involved shooting on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina and an extensive cover-up of those shootings, the Justice Department announced today. The incident resulted in the death of two civilians and the wounding of four others. The defendants will be sentenced before U.S. District Court Judge Kirk Englehardt on Dec. 14, 2011.
Four officers – Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso – were convicted in connection with the shootings of multiple victims, two of whom died. The four officers and a supervisor, Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, also were convicted of helping to obstruct justice during the subsequent investigations.
The evidence at trial established that officers Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso opened fire 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 Bartholomew’s 14-year-old son ran away from the shooting and was fired at, but was not injured.
According to testimony, 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. Witnesses testified that Faulcon shot Ronald Madison in the back as Ronald Madison ran away. Furthermore, Bowen stomped and kicked Ronald Madison while wounded, but not yet dead. Ronald Madison later died at the scene.
“The officers convicted today abused their power and violated the public’s trust during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – exacerbating one of the most devastating times for the people of New Orleans,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “I am hopeful today’s verdict brings justice for the victims and their family members, helps to heal the community and contributes to the restoration of public trust in the New Orleans Police Department.”
The four officers convicted of killing civilians face potential multiple life sentences. 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 testimony at trial, 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 fired by officers rather than civilians. Madison was held in jail for three weeks, but was eventually released without indictment.
The evidence at trial established that Kaufman joined the other four defendants in a conspiracy to cover-up what had happened on the bridge and to make the shootings appear justified. According to testimony, Kaufman obtained a gun from his home and claimed to have found the gun at the bridge on the day after the shooting, and he also made up witnesses and then created statements from the fictional witnesses to help justify the shooting. There was also testimony that Kaufman held a meeting in an abandoned and gutted out NOPD building, where he instructed officers involved in the shooting to get their stories straight before giving formal audiotaped statements about the shooting.
Kaufman, who concluded in a formal report that the shooting was justified and that Lance Madison and Jose Holmes should be arrested, was also found guilty of conspiring 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.
The trial follows guilty pleas by 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, all of whom testified during the trial.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office, and was prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Cindy Chung of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Carter of the Eastern District of Louisiana.