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September 4, 2005 six days after hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, six New Orleans police officers loaded into the back of a Budget rental truck and stormed the Danziger Bridge in the eastern area of the city. The officers were responding to a call of shots fired and an officer was down, in reality police officers escorting a civilian convoy on the I-10 high rise made a distress call over the police radio of shots fired on the Danziger Bridge and made the impression that an officer was down. A group of at least nine officers were in the truck all from the 7th districts make shift station. Claimed once they approached the bridge they received gun fire from civilians, which made them open fire. Civilians on the bridge claim they were ambushed by the officers in the truck. The officers shot eight unarmed citizens fatally wounding two 17 year old James Brissette and 40 year old Robert Madison who was mentally disabled.
The officers were wrong in doing so, because they did not verify any citizens carrying weapons nor did they identify themselves as police officers. The officers opened fire on the civilians under the assumption they were carrying weapons. By doing so the officers did not follow standard procedures (Nola, 2005). The New Orleans Police Department investigated the shootings internally, but victims of the shootings felt that justice was not served. The Bartholomew and Madison families who were the victims along with an outcry from citizens of New Orleans led the Federal Bureau of investigations to investigate the city’s police department. During the federal probe of the shootings, evidence was found that officers were not justified in the death of the two individuals, and the internal probe by investigators attempted to cover the evidence. Two years after the incident officers were arrested and indicted on murder charges, but the charges were dropped due to mishandling by the district attorney’s office.
Two weeks later the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations took over the case. Robert Faulcon along with five other police officers faced charges ranging from corruption, violation of civil rights, and weapons charges. Before the case went to trial the federal prosecution offered a series of plea bargains to the suspected officers because the case had been “cold” when they received it. On August 5, 2011 nearly six years after hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans Robert Faulcon appeared in federal court, United States district judge Kurt Engelhart presided over the hearings (FBI, 2012).
Robert Faulcon who fatally shot Robert Madison in the back with a shotgun testified that he never saw anyone on the bridge point a gun or fire at him, and that he never identified himself as a police officer or told Madison to stop. Two innocent people died and several others were wounded that day on the Danziger Bridge by the police officers whose jobs were to protect their lives of the innocent. After testimonies from prosecution and defense the former officers were found guilty on all charges. Robert Faulcon was sentenced to sixty five years in federal prison. Sergeant Kenneth Brown was sentenced to 40 years in prison, Sergeant Robert Gesivius also received 40 years in prison, and Officer Anthony Villavaso received a 38 year sentence.
Sergeant Authur Kaufman who was the lead investigator on the case, received a six year sentence for covering up the crimes during the investigation, and one officer was exonerated of the charges (Chicago Citizen, 2010). An attorney for the Department of Justice described the case as “one of the most significant police misconduct incidents since the Rodney King beating.” The New Orleans police department has a long history of corruption and violence. With the prosecution of these officers citizens hope that this will end the final chapter. And that they can begin to trust the officers sworn to protect them.
(2010, December 15). Former New Orleans Police Officer Sentenced for Role in Danziger Bridge Shootings. Chicago Citizen – Chatham Southeast Edition. p. 3.
(September 4, 2005). Police shoot eight on New Orleans bridge. Associated press. Retrieved from. http://www.nola.com/katrina/index.ssf/2005/09/police_shoot_8_on_new_orleans_b