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Police charged with murdering duo on bridge after Katrina

London Times | December 29, 2006
Elsa McLaren

Seven police officers have been charged with murder and attempted murder for a shooting on a New Orleans bridge six days after Hurricane Katrina that killed two people and wounded four others.

The incident on the Danziger Bridge in the eastern part of the city on September 4, 2005, has come to represent the lawlessness that descended on the city in the aftermath of the storm.

At the time New Orleans sweltered under a blistering heat, corpses littered the streets and looters ransacked shops and businesses.

New Orleans police have described the incident as a shootout with snipers, but victims and their relatives claim it was a police ambush.

"We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs," Eddie Jordan, New Orleans District Attorney, said in a statement.

"The rules governing lethal force are not suspended in an emergency. Everyone, including police, must abide by the law of the land."

Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, 19, were killed. The coroner said that Mr Madison was shot seven times in total, with five wounds in his back.

Mr Madison's brother Lance, who was with him at the time he was shot, said they were crossing the bridge when a group of teenagers ran up behind them and started firing shots. As they fled, seven men jumped out of a truck and began shooting.

The police department has said that an officer shot Mr Madison after he reached into the waistband of his trousers and turned towards the officer. However, his brother denies he was armed.

The officers indicted on first degree murder, which carries a possible death sentence, were, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon. Three others, Robert Barrios, Michael Hunter and Ignatius Hills, were charged with attempted murder.

The New Orleans police department said the officers shot at snipers who had been firing at rescue workers near the bridge.

In a news conference, New Orleans police superintendent Warren Riley, called Mr Jordan's statement "highly unprofessional, highly prejudicial and highly undignified," and urged the community to withhold judgment until a jury decides the officer's guilt or innocence.

"The day these alleged events occurred was one of the darkest and saddest days in New Orleans Police Department and in America's history," he said. "I have my own opinions about these unfortunate circumstances, what happened, why and how, but for now that doesn't matter."

According to a police report several officers had responded to a radio call that two fellow officers had been hurt. When they arrived at the scene they saw seven people running, four of whom fired at police. The officers returned fire, the report said.

The shooting was widely reported as evidence of the crime and chaos that descended on the city after Katrina struck on August 29, 2005.

Some 80 per cent of the city was flooded and tens of thousands of people were stranded for days.

New Orleans police came under scrutiny for failing to stop the looting and lawlessness and many failed to show up for work.


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