Four New Orleans police officers opened fire on unarmed civilians a week after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and conspired with others to cover up their actions, a federal prosecutor told jurors at the end of trial.
The defendants claimed they were responding to gunfire and that shooting victims may have been armed, prosecutor Theodore Carter, said in his closing argument today in federal court in New Orleans.
“We have actual witnesses who told you there were no guns,” Carter said. “We have actual shooters who told you there were no guns.”
One of the defendants acknowledged at the trial that there was a cover-up, Carter said.
The four officers are accused of firing on a family on the east side of the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, killing a 17- year-old and wounding four other people.
On the west side of the bridge, one of the officers shot Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man with mental disabilities, and another stomped and kicked him after he was wounded, according to an indictment issued last year. Madison died at the scene, the U.S. said.
Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, a homicide detective, allegedly joined the officers in a conspiracy to cover up what happened at the bridge and to make the shootings appear justified. Kaufman, charged with 10 counts including obstruction of justice and fabrication of evidence, is on trial with the other officers.
New Orleans officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso are charged with causing the death of the 17-year-old, James Brissette. The U.S. alleges Faulcon shot Madison and Bowen stomped on him.
A sixth officer indicted with Kaufman and the others, Gerard Dugue, was also charged with obstruction of justice. His trial is scheduled for September.
“This wasn’t a gunfight -- this was carnage,” government lawyer Carter said. “The only thing James Brissette pointed at these officers was his back,” he said “The only thing Ronald Madison pointed at defendant Faulcon was his back.”
Carter said Kaufman was responsible for a gun’s being planted into evidence. Another officer, who pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up, said Kaufman retrieved the gun from his garage, Carter told the jury.
Kaufman’s lawyer, Stephen London, said the detective wasn’t involved in a cover-up. Dugue, the other homicide investigator, was responsible for the final report on the shootings, the attorney said in his closing arguments.
Another officer put Kaufman’s notes in the final report while the defendant was out of town, London said.
Kaufman wasn’t responsible for a planted gun, he said. Officers in a conversation wiretapped by the government never mentioned a gun from Kaufman’s house being used as part of a cover-up, he said.
Kaufman reported that two shooting victims said that Jose Holmes, a civilian who was injured on the bridge, fired a gun, London said. This was supported by trial testimony from a nurse who treated Holmes, he said.
Carter, the prosecutor, said in his closing that the nurse misunderstood.
The shootings took place one week after Hurricane Katrina flooded most of New Orleans -- and one day after stranded evacuees had been airlifted or bused to safety. The policemen charged were responding to police radio reports of fellow officers in danger.
According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to “cover up what happened on the bridge” by filing charges against two victims of their conspiracy -- Holmes and Lance Madison, brother of Ronald Madison.
Five other New Orleans police officers pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the alleged cover-up.
Faulcon is sorry for his role in Madison’s death, his lawyer, Paul Fleming, told the jury.
The officers were responding to a distress call from a policewoman, he said.
An officer said over her radio, “There they are. They’re getting away,” the lawyer said, quoting policewoman Jennifer Dupre.
“I am not in any way, shape or form blaming Mr. Madison for what happened,” Fleming said. Faulcon’s police training convinced him “that Mr. Madison was about to shoot him,” he said. The decision to shoot was reasonable and justifiable, he said.
“Robert Faulcon didn’t kill James Brissette,” he said. Another officer, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and isn’t on trial, shot Brissette, Fleming said.
Nor did Faulcon admit to a cover-up as the prosecutor said, the defense lawyer told the jury. The government lawyer who cross-examined him “tripped him, she got him to say things he didn’t mean.”
Faulcon, the only one of the five defendants to testify at the trial, said he didn’t know which civilians were armed.
“If I would have known those people didn’t have weapons, I wouldn’t have fired my weapon,” he said.
Faulcon testified during cross-examination by prosecutor Barbara Bernstein that reports by Kaufman on the shootings were false.
“You agree all those reports were false?” Bernstein asked.
“Yes,” Faulcon replied.
“You agree there was a cover-up in this case,” she asked.
“Based on what I know now, yes,” he answered.
The case is U.S. v. Bowen, 2:10-cr-00204, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org