Criminal Justice

5 ex-police officers admit guilt, get greatly reduced sentences in Katrina bridge-slayings plea deal

  • Print.

At their first sentencing, four New Orleans police officers involved in shooting a group of unarmed civilians on Danziger Bridge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina got prison terms of between 38 and 65 years. A fifth officer who reportedly played a key role in a cover-up of their crimes got 6 years.

But then what a federal judge described as “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” came to light: Three senior federal prosecutors had made anonymous online comments about cases including Danziger Bridge. The judge reversed the convictions and a federal appeals court affirmed (in a subsequent en banc review, the court split 7-7).

Last week on Wednesday, more than a decade after the shooting, the five for the first time admitted their guilt in a federal court hearing in New Orleans and got sentences ranging from 3 years to 12 years. Only two apologized in court, through their attorneys, to the surviving shooting victims and the families of the two who died, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Reuters.

One surviving victim spent 25 days in jail after being falsely accused of the attempted murder of police; another had an arm amputated due to gunshot wounds. A Times-Picayune graphic (PDF) details what happened on the bridge.

Former officers Kenneth Bowen, 42; Robert Faulcon Jr., 51; Robert Gisevius, 43; and Anthony Villavaso, 39, pleaded guilty to civil rights charges. They and the fifth defendant, Arthur Kaufman, also pleaded guilty to obstruction charges. They received sentences of 10 years; 12 years; 10 years; 7 years; and 3 years, respectively. Originally they had been sentenced to prison terms of 40 years, 65 years, 40 years, 38 years and 6 years.

“This has been a terrible ordeal for our family, our friends and this community,” said Lance Madison on Wednesday. “While these officers will have to do time, it will never be enough to make up for what they did.” A onetime NFL wide receiver, Madison was the victim falsely charged with attempting to murder police, according to the articles.

Related coverage:

New Orleans Magazine: “Unfinished Sentences”

New Orleans Times-Picayune: “A decade after Danziger Bridge shooting, killings still cast a shadow”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.