Saturday, August 6, 2011

Police Get Big Sentences in Katrina Shooting Cover-Up

Police Convictions in Katrina Shootings, Cover-Up

By The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS—Five current or former police officers were convicted Friday of federal civil rights charges related to deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, police planted a weapon and made up witnesses in order to cover up the shooting deaths of two civilians. Ex homicide detective Jeffrey Lehrmann secretly gathered evidence against his fellow police officers by wearing a wire, faced them in court and described how they covered up the shooting and framed an innocent man. Survivors and witnesses of the shooting police after hurricane Katrina said that none of the civilians were armed during the shooting.

Victim's Family Member Cries at Testimony

Bowen, 37, was in the passenger seat of a rental truck that police drove to the Danziger Bridge in response to an officer's distress call. Former officer Michael Hunter, who was driving the truck, testified he saw Bowen lean over a concrete barrier on the east side of the bridge and randomly spray gunfire at wounded, unarmed people. Bowen was convicted in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old James Brissette, and of stomping on a dying, mentally disabled man, 40-year-old Ronald Madison, on the west side of the bridge. He's been on leave without pay due to incarceration.


Gisevius, 39, was one of several officers in the rear of the rental truck when it arrived at the bridge. He allegedly fired an assault rifle on the east side of the bridge, where five people were shot, one fatally. But the weapon wasn't turned over to investigators. Jurors convicted him in the fatal shooting of Brissette -- jurors didn't have to decide whether Brissette was murdered because they didn't hold any of the defendants individually responsible for causing his death. Gisevius also was convicted of taking part in a cover-up. In 2009, the FBI secretly taped a conversation in which Gisevius shared his suspicion that someone was leaking information to federal investigators. He's been on leave without pay due to incarceration.


Cop Shooting People on Bridge
Villavaso, 34, also arrived at the bridge in the rear of the rental truck. A firearms expert who testified for the government said he matched nine ammunition casings found at the bridge to an assault rifle used by Villavaso. Jurors convicted him in Brissette's shooting and the cover-up. During a conversation recorded by the FBI, Villavaso repeatedly insisted he saw a civilian with a gun on the bridge. He's been on leave without pay due to incarceration.


Faulcon, 47, was convicted in Brissette's shooting and found guilty of fatally shooting Madison on the west side of the bridge. But the jury decided Madison's killing didn't amount to murder. Faulcon, the only defendant to testify during the trial, said he was "paralyzed with fear" when he shot Madison. He didn't dispute that he shot an unarmed man in the back with a shotgun, but he said he believed Madison posed a threat as Faulcon chased him and his brother, Lance Madison, down the bridge. Faulcon left the police force shortly after the hurricane and took a job as a truck driver.


Officers Sentenced in Murders
Kaufman, 55, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, was convicted of participating in a cover-up to make the shootings appear justified. Prosecutors said he fabricated witnesses, falsified reports and planted a gun. Kaufman's attorney tried to shift blame to former Lt. Michael Lohman, who was the ranking officer on the bridge, and Sgt. Gerard Dugue, who also investigated the shootings. Lohman pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up. Dugue is scheduled to be tried separately later this year. Kaufman, who was not charged with participating in any of the shootings, retired from the police force earlier this year.

In a deal with prosecutors last year, Lehmann agreed to wear a wire to record several meetings he had with Gisevius. Judge Kurt Englehardt allowed that the information obtained will be admitted in court.

Lehrmann said they did it to protect themselves “from legal ramifications,” as he helped them justify their actions. And then when investigators entered Kaufman’s Colt revolver into evidence, they reported they had confiscated the gun from Lance Madison, whose brother was killed at the scene and they arrested him and for attempted murder of police officers.

“These are big charges against a man who’s never been arrested,” Lehrmann said on the witness stand.

Lehrmann said he and Kaufman also made up 2 witnesses, Lakeisha Smith, who supposedly stated she saw Ronald Madison reach into his waistband for something before being shot, and James Youngman, whose statement said he saw young men shoot at police and then flee over the Danziger Bridge. Neither Smith nor Youngman exists.

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