During post-Katrina shooting, two brothers said goodbye

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2011 6:43 PM
During post-Katrina shooting, two brothers said goodbye

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The barrage of gunfire paused as Lance Madison and his brother Ronald, suffering shotgun wounds, neared the crest of New Orleans' Danziger Bridge in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

That's when 41-year-old Ronald Madison spoke his parting words.

"He said to tell my mother and brothers and sisters that he loved us, and he shook my hand," Lance Madison told a New Orleans jury on Friday in the civil rights trial of five police officers. He said that minutes later, Ronald Madison was dead.

Madison was one of two men killed by police in a bloody shooting on the Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, when much of the city remained underwater. James Brissette, 17, also died that day.

Four other people were wounded by what prosecutors say were police carrying AK-47 assault rifles and handguns, and who are accused of orchestrating a massive cover up of the shooting in the years to come.

Madison's testimony came near the end of the second week in the federal trial of five police officers charged with civil rights violations in the connection with the shooting.

Sergeants Kenneth Bowen, Arthur Kaufman and Robert Gisevius, and officers Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso face charges ranging from official oppression to filing false reports. They could go to prison for life if convicted.

While prosecution witnesses have described a band of police officers firing indiscriminately on innocent people, defense attorneys have argued that the officers thought they were being threatened.

The five were among a dozen officers who responded to a radio call that day saying police were taking fire near the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans.

The officers packed into a Budget rental truck and sped to the site. Government witnesses have said that when the truck got there, officers repeatedly fired assault rifles, shotguns and handguns at civilians walking on the bridge.

Five other officers who pleaded guilty to a role in the incident said the civilians were unarmed and not threatening.

HEARD FIRST SHOTS AND RAN

Madison, who said he did not have a gun, testified that on that morning, he and his brother were walking from eastern New Orleans to their brother's dental office, where they had taken shelter from their flooded home.

On their way, a group of adults and teenagers also headed toward the bridge, walking behind the Madisons.

When Madison heard the first shots, he said, he thought the kids were firing. They began to run, and his brother was hit by gunfire, Madison said.

When the shooting stopped briefly, Ronald spoke his parting words. Then the shooting resumed and the two struggled to get to the bottom of the bridge, where he laid Ronald down at the entrance to a motel and ran to seek help, he testified.

When another shot rang out, he turned to see what he described to jurors as a man in dark clothing shooting at him as he ran away.

Madison said he ran for his life, tearing through a neighborhood the behind the motel.

"I was trying not to get killed out there," he said, adding that at that point he didn't think the shooters were police.

When the rental truck arrived and people jumped out shooting, Madison thought they must be gang members, he said.

So once he eluded the shooter behind the motel and made his way back to the front, he ran up to the police officers clustered there and begged for help.

He testified that, instead, the police surrounded him, forced him to his knees and handcuffed him.

"They started cursing me," he said. When he asked what he had done wrong, they told him: "You've been shooting at us."

Police arrested him and two other men, including 14-year-old Leonard Bartholomew, who had escaped gunfire at the other end of the bridge that wounded four members of his family and killed Brissette.

Police later released Bartholomew but charged Madison with eight counts of attempted murder of police officers. He spent 25 days in jail before his family got a lawyer and posted bond.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)