New Orleans Police who Killed 2 and Covered Up Go Free Thanks to Justice Dept. Misconduct
Five former New Orleans police officers involved in a post-Katrina shooting and cover-up have had their convictions overturned because of misconduct on the part of U.S. Justice Department officials.
The officers were tried and convicted in 2011 for their involvement in the September 3, 2005, Danziger Bridge murders that left two unarmed residents, 40-year-old Ronald Madison and 17-year-old James Brissette, dead and four others injured. The victims had sought refuge on the bridge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Much of the city celebrated the convictions after years of alleged corruption and abuse by members of the New Orleans Police Department.
But federal Judge Kurt D. Englehardt, who oversaw the officers’ sentencing in 2012, announced this week that “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” on the part of federal lawyers left him no choice but to throw out the convictions of Robert Faulcon Jr., Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius Jr., Anthony Villavaso II and Arthur “Archie” Kaufman.
Englehardt wrote in his decision that federal prosecutors had created a “prejudicial, poisonous atmosphere” by anonymously posting comments before and during the trial at Nola.com, the website of The New Orleans Times-Picayune.
“This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law and corruption of the criminal justice system,” the judge wrote. “Unfortunately though the focus has shifted from the accused to the accusers, it has continued to be about those very issues.”
He ordered a new trial for all five officers.
Engelhardt first heard of the alleged misconduct in late 2012, which prompted him to order a criminal probe of former prosecutors Sal Perricone and Jan Mann.
It was learned this week that a third person, Karla Dobinski, a veteran trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC, had also posted online comments during the trial.
Legal experts were appalled by the federal lawyers’ behavior.
“It’s one of the most hard-hitting condemnations of the conduct of the Justice Department and several prosecutors in the Justice Department that I’ve ever seen,” Pace University professor Bennett Gershman, a national expert on prosecutorial misconduct, told The Times-Picayune. “It’s a powerful expose of sleaziness, dishonesty, misconduct, egregious, flagrant—these are words the judge uses, and he's right.”
Engelhardt had previously admonished the Department of Justice for allowing others involved in the shootings and the cover-up to plea bargain lighter sentences by cooperating with the investigation. “Using liars to convict liars is no way to pursue justice,” he said last year.
To Learn More:
From Improper Online Posts, Scandal Grew to Mire an U.S. Attorney and Justice Department (by Manuel Torres, New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Reversal of Danziger Bridge Convictions a 'Bitter Pill' for Hurricane Katrina Survivors (by Juliet Linderman, New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Judge Throws Out Officers’ Convictions in Killings After Hurricane Katrina (by Campbell Robertson, New York Times)
United States v. Kenneth Bowen et al. (U.S. District Court, Eastern Louisiana) (pdf)
5 New Orleans Police Given Long Sentences for Post-Katrina Danziger Bridge Incident (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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