Indictments announced against officers in New Orleans bridge deaths
By the CNN Wire Staff
July 13, 2010 3:55 p.m. EDT
The Danziger Bridge carries traffic across the Industrial Canal in New Orleans, Louisiana.
* Four officers and two supervisors will face charges in post-Katrina shootings
* Other officers previously pleaded guilty to an alleged cover-up
* Police maintained they had fired in self-defense
(CNN) -- Federal officials announced indictments Tuesday against four police officers and two supervisors in the investigation surrounding the post-Katrina deaths of civilians on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge, federal law enforcement officials confirmed to CNN.
At least three New Orleans police officers were in FBI custody Tuesday afternoon, an attorney for one of them confirms. Kenneth Bowen, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Gisevius surrendered to authorities and are expected to make an initial court appearance later Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting an afternoon news conference in New Orleans. Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, is also speaking at the briefing.
Attorney Frank DeSalvo, who represents Bowen, said the indictment is under seal. It was unclear what the charges are against the men.
"We expected it and are ready to deal with it," DeSalvo said.
Two civilians were killed and four others wounded in the shootings on September 4, 2005, six days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.
In the first shooting, on the east side of the bridge, one person -- later identified as James Brissette, 19 -- was killed and four people were wounded, prosecutors said. In a second shooting, on the bridge's west side, Ronald Madison, 40, a severely disabled man, was killed. Madison's brother was arrested but later released without indictment, authorities said.
State prosecutors pursued criminal charges against several police officers without success. In August 2008, a judge quashed indictments against Bowen, Gisevius, Villavaso and former Officer Robert Faulcon Jr., all of whom were facing first-degree murder and attempted murder charges. In addition, the judge threw out attempted first-degree murder charges against Officers Mike Hunter Jr. and Robert Barrios, and attempted second-degree murder charges against Officer Ignatius Hills. Federal prosecutors opened an investigation after the judge's actions.
Four former city police officers pleaded guilty in federal court to charges relating to the shooting and to an alleged cover-up of the incident. Former Officer Robert Barrios pleaded guilty in April to a charge he failed to report a cover-up. His plea came after guilty pleas from three other former New Orleans police officers: Michael Lohman, Jeffrey Lehrmann and Hunter.
"The police maintained they fired at the civilians in self-defense, after the civilian fired at police," the U.S. Justice Department said in March. "However ... [Michael] Lohman pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with other officers to cover up what he had determined was a 'bad shoot' on the bridge. Today, defendant [Jeffrey] Lehrmann admitted that he also knew of and participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice in the investigation of the shooting."
A witness to the shooting of Ronald Madison told CNN in 2006 that New Orleans police lined up "like at a firing range" and fatally shot the man in the back as he fled from them in the days after Hurricane Katrina swept ashore.
"He just fell like he was collapsing," Kasimir Gaston told CNN. "Like something just wiped him out."
Gaston was one of many flood refugees living on the second floor of the Friendly Inn, a low-income motel on the city's east side. On Sunday, September 4, 2005, he says he woke up and stepped onto the balcony of the motel and saw a man running, hands outstretched and being fired upon.
Initial police accounts said that Madison, 40, reached for his waistband and turned on police, but Gaston said Madison did not appear to have a weapon and that he was running away from police "hands out, full speed" when he was shot.
Police declined CNN's request for an interview.
After the shooting, police said officers had responded to reported gunshots on the Danziger Bridge and that a running gunbattle ensued with six suspects.
A police department press release from October 4, 2005, said Madison, described as an unidentified gunman, was "confronted by a New Orleans Police officer. The suspect reached into his waist and turned toward the officer who fired one shot, fatally wounding him."
When asked if Madison had a gun, Gaston said, "I didn't see any on him." No gun was found on Madison's body.
An autopsy report obtained previously by CNN and verified by the Orleans Parish Coroner said Madison suffered five gunshot wounds to his back and two in his shoulder.