Stiff Sentences for NOPD Officers Convicted in Post-Katrina Shootings

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April 4, 2012
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.


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