WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Six more New Orleans police officers have been indicted in connection with the shooting deaths of two people and the wounding of four others who were walking on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, the Justice Department said on Tuesday.
U.S. prosecutors unsealed a 27-count indictment that charged three current officers and one former officer with the killing, and subsequent cover-up, of James Brissette, a 17-year-old city resident, and Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man who suffered disabilities and was shot in the back.
The officers were armed with two AK-47 assault rifles, a shotgun and a M-4-type assault rifle, among other weapons, during two incidents that occurred within minutes of each other on the Danziger Bridge a few days after Katrina hit the city.
Officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon were charged with the shootings and alleged cover-up. Also charged were two supervisors who were accused of helping cover up the incident and obstructing the investigation.
“Today marks an important step forward in administering justice, in healing community wounds, in improving public safety, and in restoring public trust in this city’s police department,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference in New Orleans unveiling the charges.
“We will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who are sworn to protect the public,” he said.
The four officers charged with the killings could face the death penalty or life in prison. Faulcon quit the department in 2005.
The two supervisors were Arthur Kaufman and Gerard Dugue. Kaufman could face up to 120 years in prison while Dugue, who is now retired, could face up to 70 years in prison.
Five other former New Orleans police officers have already pleaded guilty to charges related to the shootings on the bridge. Justice Department officials defended the time it took to bring the charges, noting they had to wait for local investigators to finish their own probe.
In addition to the Danziger Bridge case, the Justice Department’s civil rights division, at the request of New Orleans’ mayor, recently began investigating broader allegations of excessive police force, unconstitutional searches and seizures as well as racial profiling.
The indictment says that on September 4, 2005, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso drove onto the bridge in a rental truck in response to a call that another officer had come under fire nearby. They came across a family and Brissette, a family friend.
The officers opened fire on the group, who were on their way to get food and supplies from a supermarket, according to the indictment. Brissette was shot and killed while four other family members were wounded.
Minutes later the officers went to the other side of the bridge where they ran into Madison and his brother Lance. Ronald Madison was shot in the back by Faulcon as he tried to run away and was kicked and stomped on by Bowen, according to the indictment.
Lance Madison was arrested for attempted murder of a police officer but was released three weeks later and no charges were filed. No guns or shell casings were recovered from the scene that day, though a month later 30 casings were collected, the indictment said.
Kaufman and Dugue were accused of working with the four officers to cover up what happened. Kaufman was charged with fabricating witnesses and statements to justify the shooting and taking a gun from home and saying it was found at the scene.
Additional reporting by Mary Rickard in New Orleans; Editing by Eric Walsh