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April 4, 2012

Lengthy federal prison terms for some NOPD officers involved in post-Katrina shootings

As reported in this CNN piece, a "federal judge Wednesday sentenced five former New Orleans police officers to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for the shootings of unarmed civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." Here are the specifics:

The shootings occurred on the Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, six days after much of New Orleans went underwater when the powerful hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast.  The ex-officers were convicted in August on a combined 25 counts of civil rights violations.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt imposed the stiffest sentence on former officer Robert Faulcon, who was handed a 65-year term for his involvement in shooting two of the victims.  Former sergeants Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius got 40 years for their roles in the incident, while ex-officer Robert Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years.

The lightest term went to former detective sergeant Arthur Kaufman, who was sentenced to six years for attempting to cover up what the officers had done, according to the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans.

The men were accused of opening fire on an unarmed family, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four others. Minutes later, Faulcon shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man described by Justice Department officials as having severe mental disabilities and who was trying to flee the scene when he was shot, according to the Justice Department.

At the time, New Orleans police said they got into a running gun battle with several people. Prosecutors said Kaufman wrote the department's formal report on the incident, which concluded the shootings were justified and recommended the prosecution of two of the survivors "on the basis of false evidence."

During the trial, the defense asked the jury to consider the stressful circumstances the officers were operating under following Katrina. The shootings took place during a week of dire flooding, rampant looting and death by drowning, and police were strained by suicides and desertion among their ranks.

But U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the prison sentences send the message that "when the crisis we face is the most threatening, that when the challenges are the greatest, the rules don't go out the window."...

Romell Madison, brother of victim Ronald Madison, told reporters after Wednesday's proceedings that his family was happy with the sentences, even though prosecutors had to enter into plea agreements with several other officers to obtain the convictions. "I think it made a big difference, even though they did give them lower sentences, that they did come forth and testify to get the truth out," Madison said. "At least we got to the truth."

Five other officers, including a lieutenant, have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison terms of up to eight years in the case for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Letten said the plea deals were necessary to break a "logjam" that had prevented investigators to get the whole story of what happened on the Danziger Bridge, in New Orleans East.

This lengthy DOJ press release about the case provides a lot more details about the crimes and evidence in this high-profile case.  It also provides this accounting of the sentences given to the defendants who pleaded guilty:

The five former NOPD officers who pleaded guilty before trial, admitting that they had participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and cover-up what happened on Sept. 4, 2005, were all sentenced previously. Former Officer Mike Hunter was sentenced to serve eight years in prison; former officer Ignatius Hills was sentenced to serve six-and-a-half years; former officer Robert Barrios was sentenced to serve five years; former lieutenant Michael Lohman was sentenced to serve four years; and former detective Jeffrey Lehrmann was sentenced to serve three years.

For various reasons, this high-profle case presents an interesting case-study on the so-called "trial penalty" because it would appear that all officers involved in the shootings who pleaded guilty got sentences of 8 years or less while those officers involved in the shootings who exercised their trial rights all got sentences roughly five times longer.

April 4, 2012 at 07:21 PM | Permalink

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Comments

oh,my god

Posted by: pumps on sale | Apr 4, 2012 10:58:33 PM

maybe a true case where justice has quite possibly been served

Posted by: Tom Danson | Apr 5, 2012 1:48:19 PM

serves them right. Only pity is it's not a death eligible crime.

Which considering this!

"The men were accused of opening fire on an unarmed family, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four others. Minutes later, Faulcon shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man described by Justice Department officials as having severe mental disabilities and who was trying to flee the scene when he was shot, according to the Justice Department."

is a COMPLETE and TOTAL CROCK!

sorry under color of authority they shot and KILLED INNOCNET UNARMED CITIZENS!

Sure sounds like a DEATH ELIGIBLE CRIME TO ME!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 7, 2012 12:58:41 AM

I am an assistant federal public defender.

I am writing with only the benefit of the sentencing minute order which reports that Robert Faulcon was convicted, among other things of 3 counts of 924(c) (counts 2,7, and 9). In and of themselves those counts required a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 years. Two of them (counts 2 and 9) included 924(j) allegations which aggravated the potential sentence to "death [if sought by the government] or by imprisonment for any term of years or life." Given the press report of the lament by the trial judge that he could not avoid imposing the stiffer sentences which were meted out, the particular "trial penalty" exacted here was driven not so much as a quid pro quo for simply going to trial as it was by the draconian effect of multiple mandatory minimum sentences in 924(c) cases, and by the singular power given to prosecutors to dangle plea offers requiring cooperation as the sole means of avoiding them.

Posted by: Jeff | Apr 10, 2012 2:41:13 PM

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