Bystander says watched run-up to Katrina shooting from motel

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 07, 2011 9:38 PM
Bystander says watched run-up to Katrina shooting from motel

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A bystander who witnessed the run-up to a fatal police shooting in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina told a New Orleans court on Thursday that he watched from a motel balcony as a gunman fired a rifle at an unarmed man.

Douglas Bloedorn testified he tried to warn the man to take cover but the gunman, who prosecutors said was a police officer, turned the weapon on Bloedorn.

"Get in your room and get down," he shouted at Bloedorn, according to testimony. Minutes later, his motel room was filled with police who stayed for 45 minutes. When they left and he stepped out of the motel, the body of a dead man lay near the entrance.

The testimony came during the second week of a federal trial of five New Orleans police officers charged with civil rights violations connected with the shooting deaths of two people, the wounding of four others and obstruction of justice related to a cover-up.

Killed in the shootings were 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who died at the entrance to the Friendly Inn motel, and 17-year-old James Brissette.

Charged are sergeants Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius and Arthur Kaufman, and officers Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso. All face possible life sentences if convicted. Five more have pleaded guilty to their part in the incident.

Defense attorneys have argued the officers were responding to a perceived threat and that it was difficult to be rational in the tragedy and chaos of the storm's aftermath.

Bloedorn was the latest of several witnesses, including some officers at the scene, who have testified that police fired on unarmed people who did not appear to pose a threat.


Bloedorn testified that in 2005 he was living in a second-floor room at the Friendly Inn, at the west end of the Danziger Bridge.

On September 4, he heard gunfire coming from the bridge and went to the balcony outside his room where he said he saw a man in dark clothing aim a rifle at an unarmed man who was running through the motel parking lot.

He said the gunman fired once but the man kept running.

Bloedorn said he shouted to the man, "Dude, stop, they're going to kill you."

The man apparently escaped alive, according to testimony. The gunman was later identified as a police officer.

In other testimony, one of the police officers who fired his weapon that day said four months passed before anyone asked him for a detailed account of what happened.

Michael Hunter drove the truck that carried about a dozen officers to the Danziger Bridge after they received a report that civilians were firing on police near the bridge.

Hunter said an investigator called together all the officers who had used weapons at the police substation immediately after the shooting, but the discussion was brief.

"There were just three questions: What weapon did you fire, how many times did you fire and who did you fire at," Hunter said.

He said no one asked whether civilians had fired at police. He said he believed that was because everyone knew the civilians had no guns and understood that the police goal was to justify the shooting.

"At some point Lieutenant (Michael) Lohman turned to somebody to his right and said, 'We can't have this looking like a massacre,'" Hunter recalled.

Lohman was among the officers who pleaded guilty for his role in the alleged cover-up. He testified for the prosecution earlier in the trial.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)