NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Four former New Orleans policemen convicted of shootings in 2005 that killed two unarmed people and wounded four others following Hurricane Katrina were given sentences on Wednesday ranging from 38 to 65 years in prison.
A fifth former police officer who did not participate in the shootings but engineered a four-year cover-up of the crimes was sentenced the six years.
The sentencing of the five men in federal court completed one of the last cases of police misconduct in New Orleans more than six years after the devastating hurricane flooded the city and triggered a chaotic aftermath.
Last August, a jury found former policemen Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and Anthony Villavaso guilty on multiple charges including federal civil rights violations stemming from the September 4, 2005, incident.
Bowen and Gisevius were sentenced to 40 years each and Villavaso to 38 years by U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Englehardt. Faulcon was sentenced to 65 years.
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.
Another police detective charged with participating in the cover-up is slated for trial in May.
The five who were sentenced on Wednesday 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.
“The officers who shot innocent people on the bridge and then went to great lengths to cover up their own crimes have finally been held accountable for their actions,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez said in a statement. “As a result of today’s sentencing, the city of New Orleans can take another step forward.”
James Bresette, 17, and Ronald Madison, 40, were killed in the incident.
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 prosecution, and all five began serving sentences that range from three to eight years.
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.
Editing by Greg McCune and Will Dunham