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New Orleans police plead not guilty to shootings

Reuters | January 6, 2007

Seven New Orleans police officers pleaded not guilty on Friday to murder and attempted murder charges in a shooting incident that left two people dead amid the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina 16 months ago.

Orleans Parish Judge Raymond Bigelow took the pleas in an arraignment and said the officers, who were indicted by a state grand jury on December 28, would be allowed to post bail and return to work.

The accused police were hailed as heroes by about 200 supporters when they turned themselves in on Tuesday. But on Friday protesters outside the courthouse held up signs that said "Murderers."

Two people died and four were wounded in the September 4, 2005, incident that occurred amid looting and shooting in New Orleans after Katrina struck August 29, flooding most of the city and stranding tens of thousands of people.

The officers, who were cleared in an internal investigation, said they responded to a call that snipers were firing from the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans and got in a gun battle when they arrived.

But survivors and families of the dead said the police attacked without provocation.

Four officers -- Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon -- have been charged with murder.

Three others, Robert Barrios, Michael Hunter and Ignatius Hills, were indicted for attempted murder.

Bigelow set bail that ranged from $50,000 for Hunter to $300,000 for Faulcon, who faces two murder charges.

Faulcon's attorney, Franz Zibilich, told reporters after the hearing that his client expected to be exonerated.

"It's certainly our position that there's next to no evidence that will support the first-degree murder charges," he said.

Two of the officers were already out of prison on bail, and Zibilich said he expected the rest would get out by the end of Friday.

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