Stiff Sentences for NOPD Officers Convicted in Post-Katrina Shootings

by
Watch Law & Disorder, our investigation into questionable police shootings in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

Four former New Orleans police officers were sentenced to more than 30 years in prison today for their role in the post-Katrina police shootings on the Danziger Bridge that killed two and injured four unarmed civilians.

Robert Faulcon, Jr., Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Jr., and Anthony Villavaso — each convicted of charges related to the shootings and the ensuing five-year cover-up — received prison terms of between 38 and 65 years.

A fifth officer, former Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who was not present at the time but who wrote a police report justifying the shooting, was sentenced to six years.

But while imposing the tough sentences, U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt delivered a two-hour speech highly critical of the government for deals it cut with an additional five officers who cooperated with the prosecution. Their prison terms were much more lenient than those doled out to the officers convicted at trial. As the Times-Picayune‘s Brendan McCarthy explains:

For instance, Lt. Michael Lohman, Kaufman’s supervisor and in Engelhardt’s view the lead architect of the cover-up, received a four-year sentence.

“The buck started and stopped with him,” Engelhardt said of Lohman.

Meanwhile, Robert Barrios, Villavaso’s partner, received a five-year sentence. Engelhardt called him “the biggest winner in the plea-bargain sweepstakes.”

The government’s reliance on cooperating witnesses who were looking to protect themselves made the judge very uncomfortable.

“Using liars to convict liars is no way to pursue justice,” Engelhardt said.

The Danziger Bridge case is the most high-profile of six questionable cases of post-Katrina police shootings that we’ve been following with ProPublica and the Times-Picayune. Federal investigations were opened into all six cases, and to date, more than a dozen NOPD officers have been convicted or pleaded guilty.

The FBI has stationed two agents full time in the troubled department to investigate allegations of significant corruption and civil rights violations. Last March, the Justice Department released a scathing report which found “systemic violations of civil rights” by the NOPD.

In addition to the new FBI presence, the NOPD and the Justice Department are in the midst of working out a consent decree with the aim of fostering “fundamental culture change” in the department. Upon its implementation, the consent decree is expected to govern the department for years.

There is one remaining defendant in the Danziger Bridge case; earlier this year, a mistrial was declared in the case of former detective Gerard Dugue, who is accused of participating in the cover-up. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has said he intends to retry the case.

blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS
Frontline Journalism Fund

Supporting Investigative Reporting

Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.
PBSCPBMacArthur FoundationPark FoundationFord Foundationwyncote

FRONTLINE   Watch FRONTLINE   About FRONTLINE   Contact FRONTLINE
Privacy Policy   Journalistic Guidelines   PBS Privacy Policy   PBS Terms of Use   Corporate Sponsorship
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.