Katrina cops: Criminals or heroes?

2011-08-03 13:01
New Orleans - Five police officers on trial in the shooting deaths of civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were portrayed on Tuesday in closing arguments as criminals or heroes.

"It was unreasonable for these officers to fire even one shot," said Assistant US Attorney Theodore Carter, who reminded jurors of video footage that showed they unleashed "54 seconds of gunfire".

The trial, which began five weeks ago, focuses on an incident on September 4 2005, as two families whose homes were devastated by Katrina's flood waters were crossing New Orleans's Danziger Bridge.

In what prosecutors have described as a "hail of gunfire", two people were killed, both African Americans, and four were wounded.

Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally challenged man described by family members as gentle and loving, was shot several times in the back and died at the scene.

James Brissette, a high school student who friends said was nerdy and studious, also died on the bridge.

Collusion of top officers


The case has put on display two radically different narratives not just of the incident on the bridge, but of the overall actions of police in the days after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the city.

The prosecution has said that officers felt that the law did not apply to them and began covering their tracks immediately after the incident, when they discovered they had killed unarmed civilians.

The elaborate cover-up allegedly involved the collusion of top officers, secret meetings, invented witnesses and manufactured evidence.

Arguing that the officers stuck together to shape their stories, Carter said: "In another situation, that's admirable. But here it's criminal."

The defence has insisted the officers are heroes who rescued people and "fought bad guys" in a chaotic and lawless city at a time when many of their fellow police had evacuated.

"These are the life and death decisions we call upon officers to make every day," declared Paul Fleming, one the defence attorneys.

Greatest country on earth


Fleming, who represents former officer Robert Faulcon, accused the government of overreaching in their pursuit of these officers, abusing the grand jury process and threatening witnesses with "a pattern of harassment and intimidation heaped upon anyone who said something they didn't like".

In a heated appeal, fellow defence attorney Frank Desalvo called the prosecution's case "meaningless, emotional drivel" and criticised the Justice Department for going after the law enforcement officers.

"We know that the United States is the greatest country on earth and the only thing wrong with it is the people running the government," Desalvo said.

The officers involved in the shooting - Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Faulcon - could receive life sentences if convicted of federal civil rights violations.

They are also charged with obstructing justice during the subsequent investigations by falsifying reports, inventing witnesses and planting evidence.

Five officers who aided in the conspiracy have already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against their fellow officers in exchange for lighter sentences.

Focus on jury

Sergeant Arthur Kaufman, who was not present at the shooting, is charged only in the conspiracy and could receive a maximum penalty of 120 years behind bars.

Sergeant Gerard Dugue, another officer who is accused of aiding in the conspiracy, will be tried separately in September, and faces a maximum penalty of 70 years.

Focus now turns to the jury, which will begin deliberating on Wednesday on the 25 charges faced by the officers, after receiving final jury instructions from US District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

- SAPA
Read more on:    us
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
5 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

The craziest deaths of 2014
How to make this a sensual, sexy summer!
This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!
This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be emotionally defensive or reserved today. You need to step up today as there may be extra responsibilities to deal with....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.