Katrina shooting survivor says he was lying down when shot

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2011 11:08 PM
Katrina shooting survivor says he was lying down when shot

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A survivor of a bloody shooting just days after Hurricane Katrina testified on Wednesday in the trial of five police officers accused of killing two unarmed civilians that he was lying on the ground when he was shot.

"I kind of figured if they saw us lying on the ground, they wouldn't shoot us," Jose Holmes said on the third day of the trial of the officers over their actions in the height of post-Katrina chaos in New Orleans.

When Holmes saw a shadow pass over him, he saw "the barrel of a gun," he said. "I looked away and tried to brace myself for the shot."

Multiple shots later, Holmes lay barely alive, with gunshots to the neck, abdomen, legs and arms.

The federal charges against the officers encompass 25 counts in connection with the killings of two unarmed civilians, the wounding of four others and an alleged elaborate cover-up in the months and years after the 2005 incident.

Jurors also watched a dramatic video of parts of the incident that showed a rental truck full of police arriving at the Danziger Bridge and officers jumping out with guns in hand. They immediately began shooting toward a concrete barrier that forms a pedestrian walkway along the bridge.

The video played at the trial came from an NBC News crew that covered the aftermath of the hurricane in New Orleans. They were filming the Interstate 10 bridge over the city's Industrial Canal, and the photographer had zoomed in on part of the police action on the bridge half a mile away.

During the eight-minute video, jurors were able to see and hear much of the action, though the camera was too far away to allow clear identification of individual shooters.

Shooting victim Holmes and four other people who were on the other side of that barrier weren't visible in the video.

OFFICER HEARD GUNFIRE

Officer Jennifer Dupree, working from a makeshift command post, had broadcast the radio alert that officers were under fire that day. Her call led police at a nearby station to load into a rental truck and head for the Danziger Bridge.

Dupree testified on Wednesday that she broadcast a call for officers needing help when she heard gunfire below the I-10 bridge.

Moments later, she said, she saw two men with guns running northward from the interstate toward the Danziger. She had a handgun and a shotgun ready but didn't fire, she said.

"They were running away. They weren't a threat to me," she said.

Dupree said she continued broadcasting their position until she lost sight of them, but later spotted two more figures running near the far end of the bridge, west of where Holmes and his relatives had just been shot by police.

"They're at the bottom of the bridge," she shouted into her radio.

The video appeared to raise a question about Dupree's identification of the runners. She testified she was certain the two shooters she saw near the I-10 bridge were wearing a red T-shirt and a black T-shirt, while the pair she spotted minutes later on the Danziger Bridge wore white and black.

Shotgun blasts rang out shortly after she broadcast their location as near a vacant motel. Soon, civilian Ronald Madison lay dead from a shot in his back at the entrance to the motel.

His brother Lance was taken into custody and charged with firing on police officers, a first step in what several officers now say was a cover-up aimed at protecting police from charges that they killed and wounded unarmed civilians.

The trial of officers Robert Faulcon, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman on civil rights violations and obstruction of justice charges is likely to last for two months.

Among the key witnesses are five officers who have pleaded guilty to a role in the shooting or cover-up, all of whom say that none of those killed or injured on the bridge had guns.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)