NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Four former New Orleans police officers asked a federal judge Tuesday to let them out of jail on bond as they await a second trial in deadly shootings that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Lawyers for former Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen and former officers Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon said the four have been locked up for nearly six years, despite the overturning of their convictions in 2013. They remain jailed, and await a new trial, on civil rights charges arising from the deaths of two unarmed people and the wounding of four others on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge less than a week after Katrina-related levee failures swamped the city.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered a new trial citing prosecutors' misconduct — including anonymous online comments about the case. A New Orleans-based federal appeals court has rejected prosecutors' arguments to re-instate the convictions and defense lawyers say Engelhardt should now release them on bond.
"The defendants are willing to submit to whatever conditions of release the court deems necessary to assure their appearance at trial," the bond motion states.
Defense lawyers say the four have spent almost as much time in what amounts to pre-trial detention as others who pleaded guilty in connection with the case. They also say that the four have had little or no contact with their children since they were locked up, and that Gisevius has never seen a daughter born a week after he was taken into custody.
"All of the defendants need to go home, even if temporarily, to provide their children with the guidance they were denied during those critical six lost years," the motion says.
Two people died and four were hurt on Sept. 4, 2005, at the Danziger Bridge. Police said at the time of the shooting that the officers were responding to a report of other officers down when they came under fire.
However, after hearing from five dozen witnesses and examining 400 pieces of evidence during a monthlong trial, a federal jury convicted Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso for opening fire and for efforts to cover up wrongdoing. Former Sgt. Arthur "Archie" Kaufman faces a new trial in the cover-up alone.
Faulcon was sentenced to 65 years in prison; Bowen and Gisevius, 40 years; Villavaso, 38; and Kaufman, now out on bond, six.
A scandal involving Justice Department employees would undo the conviction and sentences. In September 2013, Engelhardt said the case had been tainted by "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct," including leaks to media and posting of anonymous comments by at least three government attorneys on a New Orleans newspaper's website.
Prosecutors have argued that there is no evidence the misconduct affected the verdict.