Prosecutorial Misconduct: Killer Katrina Kops Edition
Apr. 22, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — On April 20, a federal judge sentenced five former New Orleans cops for their roles in the September 4, 2005 shooting of six unarmed, law-abiding pedestrians on the Danziger Bridge, six days after Hurricane Katrina hit the town.
Kurt Engelhardt, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, sentenced three of the men – Robert Gisevius, Kevin Bowen and Anthony Villavaso – to prison terms of 7 (Villavaso) and 10 years (Bowen & Gisevius) after they pleaded guilty to depriving 17-year-old James Brissette of his Fourth Amendment rights by murdering him. A fourth cop, Robert Faulcon, Jr., received a sentence of 12 years for depriving Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, of his civil rights by shooting him in the back and killing him. All four men, along with Arthur Kaufman, their former supervisor, also pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice, as well as several counts of obstruction. For his crimes, Kaufman received a sentence of 3 years.
Around 9 a.m. on September 4, James Brissette, his friend, Jose Holmes, Jr., and his uncle’s family, the Bartholomews, were pushing a shopping cart across the Danziger Bridge, looking for supplies. Without warning, they were attacked by nine cops in plainclothes who drove up in a commandeered Budget rental truck, jumped out and opened fire with shotguns and assault rifles. Brissette was killed on the spot; the youngest Bartholomew managed to duck under the bridge and escape injury, but the remaining Bartholomews were caught and riddled with bullets when they tried to take cover behind a concrete barrier. Miraculously, none were killed, though they all sustained multiple bullet wounds, and Susan Bartholomew, the mother of the family, later had to have her arm amputated.
Next, several of the officers, including Gisevius and Faulcon, caught sight of another group of unarmed citizens at the crest of the bridge. Gisevius opened fire with an M4 carbine, but failed to hit anyone. Determined to give chase, Faulcon and Gisevius piled into an unmarked car driven by a State Police trooper and pursued the fleeing people, among them Ronald Madison and his brother Lance. When they pulled level with the Madisons, Faulcon leaned out the window and shot Ronald seven times in the back. The cops then jumped out and arrested Lance, supposedly for attempting to murder them.
The cover-up began immediately: the cops systematically falsified their reports and planted a gun at the scene. They were aided by Kaufman, who was made lead investigator on the case. Lance Madison was jailed for three weeks, then unceremoniously released. A state grand jury later declined to indict him.
The same grand jury indicted the killer cops on one count each of first-degree murder. But in August 2008, a state district judge, Raymond Bigelow, threw out the indictments, citing prosecutorial misconduct. Allegedly, the New Orleans DA’s office leaked grand jury testimony to a police officer who was also a witness, a violation of state law.
This drew the baleful eye of the Department of Justice. Lacking jurisdiction to indict the killer cops for murder, the feds indicted and successfully prosecuted them on a number of counts, including violations of 18 U.S.C. § 242, deprivation of rights under color of law, and 18 U.S.C. 924(c), using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. (Kaufman was charged with offenses related to the cover-up.) Judge Engelhardt presided over their trial.
In April 2012, Judge Engelhardt sentenced Kaufman to 6 years; the killer cops received sentences of between 38 (Villavaso) and 65 years (Faulcon). A month after their conviction, the cops moved Engelhardt for a new trial. The grounds? Prosecutorial misconduct.
The cops, led by Kaufman, accused federal prosecutors of intimidating witnesses, as well as sockpuppeting: posting anonymous comments critical of the cops on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s website. Judge Engelhardt, who held that the prosecutors’ conduct cast an “ineradicable taint” on the cops’ convictions, agreed to do as the cops asked and ordered a retrial.
In lieu of a trial, the cops entered into a plea bargain with the DoJ. In addition to sentence reductions of between 50% and 85%, the killers, who have been in custody since the federal indictment in July 2010, will be credited for time served. (Kaufman made bail.)