Tough Sentences for Danziger Bridge Officers Turned Witnesses

October 6, 2011

Federal prosecutors yesterday asked for leniency in sentencing two former New Orleans police officers who pleaded guilty to participating in the cover-up of the notorious post-Katrina Danziger Bridge shootings. Two civilians were killed and four were wounded in the incident.

Both officers — Michael Hunter and Ignatius Hills — testified on behalf of the prosecution during the trial, which resulted in the convictions of five of their former colleagues.

But in both cases federal judges rejected the prosecutors’ requests.  Hunter will serve eight years in federal prison and Hills will serve six and a half years. Their colleagues convicted at trial face sentences of 35 years or more.

Hunter, who pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shootings, drove the officers to the scene. He admitted to firing “warning shots” at the civilians, an assertion which U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance called “preposterous” after reviewing a video that captured the shooting. Vance said it was clear that Hunter was shooting “dead level” not over the civilians’ heads as he claimed.

Hills also pleaded guilty to charges relating to the cover-up. During the trial he admitted to shooting at a fleeing teenager, but the shots missed. In denying prosecutors’ request for leniency, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman compared Hills’ actions to those of former officer Anthony Villavaso, who was convicted at the trial. “They both shot at someone,” he said. “They both missed. They both lied.” Villavaso faces more than 35 years in prison.

Last month, another judge, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk also rejected prosecutors’ request to reduce the sentence of former officer Jeffrey Lehrmann, who pleaded guilty to participating in the cover-up. Lehrman will serve a three-year sentence.

Seven other officers await sentencing in the case.

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