Police convicted in post-Katrina shootings to hear sentences

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 04, 2012 10:24 AM
Police convicted in post-Katrina shootings to hear sentences

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Five former police officers convicted for their roles in a post-Hurricane Katrina shootings that killed two unarmed civilians and wounded four others will be sentenced on Wednesday in federal court.

Last August, a jury found Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon Jr., Robert Gisevius Jr. and Anthony Villavaso guilty on multiple charges, including federal civil rights violations, as a result of the September 4, 2005, incident.

A fifth officer, homicide detective Arthur "Archie" Kaufman, was convicted of covering up the crimes through a series of false reports and lies that continued for more than four years.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Englehardt is scheduled to sentence the five at a Wednesday morning hearing. Each could face decades in prison.

The five were among a dozen officers who responded to a radio call that police were taking fire near the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans just days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the city.

The officers packed into a rental truck and sped to the site. Witnesses testified that when the officers arrived, they jumped out of the truck and repeatedly fired assault rifles, shotguns and handguns at civilians walking on the bridge.

In reports filed by the officers or on their behalf, they claimed they shot only after being threatened or fired on and that they had seen weapons in the victims' hands.

Kaufman was later convicted of planting a handgun at the scene.

During the six-week-long trial in 2011, lead prosecutor Barbara "Bobbi" Bernstein presented testimony from dozens of witnesses, including eastern New Orleans resident Susan Bartholomew, who lost her arm from a shotgun blast in the incident.

Witnesses included five police officers who earlier pleaded guilty to roles in the shootings or cover-up. Four of the officers testified for the government, and all five began serving sentences that range from three to eight years.

Wednesday's hearing could last several hours as prosecutors and defense attorneys allow officers and victims' relatives to make brief statements.

Last week, Bowen's attorney asked Judge Englehardt to reconsider limits previously set on testimony that could support a reduction in his client's sentence.

The attorney submitted the names of a dozen witnesses who would speak on Bowen's behalf, offering details of how he and other officers had worked to rescue citizens trapped by floodwaters after Katrina.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI took up the case in 2009 after a previous case brought by the New Orleans district attorney was thrown out because of a prosecutor's misconduct.

Another police detective charged with participating in the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge shooting is slated for trial in May.

(Editing by James Kelleher and Philip Barbara)