NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A sharply divided federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected prosecutors' efforts to re-instate the convictions of five former New Orleans police officers connected to deadly shootings of unarmed civilians in the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina.
The 7-7 tie vote on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in effect, maintains earlier rulings that overturned the men's earlier guilty verdicts in connection with the shootings at the Danziger Bridge six days after Katrina's Aug. 29, 2005, landfall.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt had ordered a new trial for the five following a scandal involving federal prosecutors' improper, anonymous comments about the case on a newspaper's website. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit had voted 2-1 to uphold Engelhardt. Tuesday's 7-7 vote means the earlier panel's ruling stands.
The ruling means Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen and former officers Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon remain in line for new trials in the shooting and cover-up.
Former Sgt. Arthur "Archie" Kaufman won a new trial in the cover-up alone.
The seven judges who voted against another appellate hearing did not give a reason.
A dissent was written by Judge Edward Prado, who said a new hearing is warranted. Prado, who also had dissented in the earlier 2-1 ruling, said there is no evidence that the prosecutors' conduct affected the jury's 2011 verdict.
The Danziger shootings happened on Sept. 4, 2005. The city remained badly flooded, with utilities out everywhere and the police force under strain. Police shot and killed two unarmed people — Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, 19. Four others at the bridge were wounded.
Police said at the time that the officers were responding to a report of other officers down when they came under fire.