New Orleans Cop Explains How Police Gunned Down Unarmed Civilians In Post-Katrina Incident

Published on
by
TalkingPointsMemo

New Orleans Cop Explains How Police Gunned Down Unarmed Civilians In Post-Katrina Incident

by
Justin Elliott

Fmr. New Orleans Police Officer Michael Hunter, center, shown in 2007 before turning himself in for an earlier set of charges in the Danziger shootings.

A former New Orleans police officer has given authorities a shocking account of the killing by police of two unarmed civilians and the wounding of four others on Danziger Bridge in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The account of the September 2005 incident
by former Officer Michael Hunter, 33, who pleaded guilty yesterday to
charges associated with the coverup of the shootings, is contained in a
court filing that you can read in full below.

In this excerpt, Hunter describes another officer shooting Ronald
Madison, 40, a mentally disabled man, in the back with a shotgun. A
second officer then beat the dying man on the ground, according to
Hunter.

At this point in Hunter's account, he and an Officer A had gotten
into an unmarked Louisiana State Police car after an initial round of
shootings. The car pursued three black men running away near the bottom
of the bridge:

"As the unmarked [Louisiana State Police] car pulled to a stop,
Officer A, without warning, fired a shotgun at Ronald Madison's back as
Madison ran away in the direction of the motel. Defendant HUNTER
immediately got out of the car and went to where Ronald Madison was
lying on the ground. Ronald Madison was alive, but appeared to be
dying. He was lying on his side, with two officers standing nearby.
Neither defendant HUNTER nor either of the other officers searched
Ronald Madison for a weapon.

As Ronald Madison lay dying on the pavement, Sergeant A ran down the
bridge toward Ronald and asked an officer if Ronald was "one of them."
When the officer replied in the affirmative, Sergeant A began kicking
or stomping Ronald Madison repeatedly with hisfoot. Sergeant A appeared
to be striking Madison's torso with as much force as he could muster.
Defendant HUNTER charged toward Sergeant A, who backed off from
Madison. As defendant HUNTER walked away, an officer standing nearby
appeared shocked that HUNTER had confronted Sergeant A."

(Hunter, an officer, would have been outranked by the sergeant he confronted.)

In the new account of the incident, Hunter admits to firing a
handgun "numerous times" at fleeing, unarmed civilians who did not
present a threat, but "he did not believe that he struck them." The
account makes clear that officers did not see weapons or threatening
acts by any of the civilians, but doesn't speculate as to the their
motives for opening fire.

Hunter was not charged with crimes relating to the incident itself,
but rather the subsequent cover-up. He pleaded to conspiring to
obstruct justice and misprision of a felony. He is the third former officer in the past month and a half to plead guilty to charges related to the coverup.

Remarkably, Hunter has remained on the force since the post-Katrina shootings, though he was assigned to a desk job. He only resigned at the end of last month.

The new development has raised speculation
that federal prosecutors may be looking to bring charges against
officers for the shooting itself, not merely the coverup. Criminal
charges for murder were brought at the state level but thrown out in
2008. The Times-Picayune has more.

Here is the full account of what happened according to Hunter:

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. MICHAEL HUNTER

* * *

FACTUAL BASIS

If this matter were to go to trial, the Government would prove
beyond a reasonable doubt, through the introduction of competent
testimony and admissible tangible exhibits, the following facts to
support the allegations in the two-count Bill of Information now
pending against defendant MICHAEL HUNTER, charging the defendant with
one count of conspiring to obstruct justice in the investigation of the
Danziger Bridge shooting that occurred on September 4, 2005, and with
one count of misprision of a felony. Specifically, Count One charges
that defendant HUNTER conspired with other New Orleans Police
Department (NOPD) Officers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371, to commit
the following offenses against the United States:

a. to knowingly falsify and make a false entry in a document with
intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation and proper
administration of a matter within federal jurisdiction, and in relation
to and in contemplation of such a matter, in violation of Title 18,
United States Code, Section 1519; and

b. to knowingly engage in misleading conduct toward another person
with intent to hinder, delay, and prevent the communication of truthful
information to a federal law enforcement officer and judge of
information relating to the commission and possible commission of a
federal offense, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section
1512(b)(3); All in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371.

Count Two charges defendant HUNTER with misprision of a felony, in
violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 4, for concealing
crimes he witnessed on the Danziger Bridge. From September 4, 2005,
until March 2010, the defendant knew that officers with NOPD had
engaged in deprivations of rights under color of law, in violation of
Title 18, United States Code, Section 242, and that these deprivations
of rights had resulted in bodily injury and death to civilians on the
Danziger Bridge in New Orleans on September 4, 2005. The defendant
concealed these crimes and provided false statements to investigators;
All in violation of 18 U.S.C. 4.

The Shootings and the Start of the Conspiracy

In 2005, defendant HUNTER was an officer assigned to NOPD's Seventh
District. On September 4, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the
defendant and his fellow Seventh District officers were working out of
a temporary station at the Crystal Palace on Chef Menteur Highway. In
response to a radio call that officers on the I-10 high-rise bridge had
taken fire, defendant HUNTER and other NOPD officers loaded into a
large Budget rental truck, which HUNTER then drove from the Crystal
Palace to the Danziger Bridge.

En route to the Danziger Bridge, Sergeant A asked to borrow an
assault rifle defendant HUNTER had placed in the cab of the Budget
truck. HUNTER hesitated initially, but then relented and agreed to let
Sergeant A use the assault rifle.

When defendant HUNTER first observed the Danziger Bridge on
September 4, 2005, he saw in the distance a handful of people casually
walking on the roadway on the bridge. HUNTER realized that the people
on the bridge would not know that the Budget truck held police officers
who were responding to a call for assistance, so he used his left hand
to fire warning shots, with his NOPD-issued handgun, out the window of
the truck.

As defendant HUNTER fired these warning shots, the people on the
bridge scattered and ran toward a concrete barrier separating the
roadway from a pedestrian walkway. The civilians, who did not appear to
have any weapons, began to climb or jump over the barrier.

Defendant HUNTER stopped the Budget truck a short distance from
where he had seen people climb over the concrete barrier. As the truck
rolled to a stop, Sergeant A fired an assault rifle down toward the
civilians on the walkway. At one point before HUNTER got out of the
truck, he saw an older black male raise his head above the barrier, and
he saw Sergeant A fire at the black male. The black male did not appear
to have a weapon and did not threaten the officers.

In addition to the people who jumped over the concrete barrier,
defendant HUNTER saw civilians running westward, toward the top of the
bridge. HUNTER got out on the driver's side, ran to the front of the
truck, and fired his handgun in the direction of the people running
away up the bridge. Sergeant B, who had also run to the front of the
truck, stood nearby, firing an M4-type assault rifle at the same
civilians. HUNTER did not see any weapons on these civilians, and did
not see them stop or turn around. They did not appear to be a threat to
the officers as they ran up the bridge. HUNTER fired his handgun
numerous times in the direction of these fleeing civilians, but did not
believe that he struck them.

Defendant HUNTER then walked to the passenger side of the truck,
where Sergeant A and other officers were lined up in a position to fire
at or behind the concrete barrier. HUNTER saw Sergeant A and one or
more other officers firing at or behind the barrier. Seeing that there
was no threat to the officers, defendant HUNTER shouted, "Cease fire!"

When the officers stopped firing, defendant HUNTER walked toward the
back of the truck on the passenger side. While defendant HUNTER was
still on the passenger side of the truck, near the walkway, he saw
several civilians, who appeared to be unarmed, injured, and subdued.
Sergeant A suddenly leaned over the concrete barrier, held out his
assault rifle, and, in a sweeping motion, fired repeatedly at the
civilians lying wounded on the ground.

The civilians were not trying to escape and were not doing anything that could be perceived as a threat.

Sergeant B and other officers started running up the bridge, as
defendant HUNTER moved up the bridge to where two female civilians were
lying on the walkway, behind the concrete barrier. The two females were
lying on the ground, hugging each other and crying in apparent pain.
HUNTER saw that at least one of the females had suffered serious
gunshot wounds, and that both appeared terrified. One of the females
had a gaping wound on her leg, and had a large chunk of flesh missing
from her calf. The other civilians were also seriously wounded,
including one man who was lying face-down, not moving.

Defendant HUNTER did not see any weapons on or near any of the
civilians when they were in the roadway, and he did not see any weapons
on or near the civilians as they lay dead or wounded on the walkway. No
officers on the east side of the bridge said that they had seen guns on
or near the civilians after the shooting, and nobody asked the
civilians where the guns were. At no time did any of the civilians make
any statements about having fired at anyone.

Defendant HUNTER returned to the Budget truck, where he observed the
assault rifle that Sergeant A had borrowed from him. The magazine that
had started off fully-loaded was now empty, and the rifle was hot to
the touch.

Defendant HUNTER and Sergeant A entered the cab of the Budget truck
and HUNTER drove to the crest of the bridge. On or near the crest of
the bridge, they met Sergeant B, who said that civilians running toward
the bottom of the west side of the bridge had fired at him. HUNTER saw
three black males running down the bridge, but they did not appear to
have weapons or to be a threat to the officers. Sergeant B may have
fired an assault rifle at the fleeing civilians.

An unmarked car driven by an officer with the Louisiana State Police
(LSP) approached from the east side and stopped near the crest of the
bridge. Defendant HUNTER, Sergeant B, and Officer A entered the car.
Sergeant B sat in the back seat, on the driver's side. Officer A sat in
the front passenger seat. HUNTER sat behind Officer A.

As the car moved down the bridge, defendant HUNTER saw three black
males running away, near the bottom of the bridge. None of the
civilians appeared to be armed or to be a threat to the officers. Two
men, later identified as Lance and Ronald Madison, ran down the right
side of the road, while a third, older man ran down the left side. As
the LSP car drove down the bridge, defendant HUNTER focused on Lance
Madison, who was wearing black clothing, and Ronald Madison, who was
wearing a white t-shirt, with blood on it.

As Lance Madison ran toward the Friendly Inn, a motel at the bottom
of the bridge, Ronald Madison trailed approximately 20 to 30 feet
behind him. The LSP car moved to cut off Lance Madison and, in so
doing, briefly pulled slightly ahead of Ronald Madison, who continued
to run after his brother. As Ronald Madison then ran past the slowing
LSP car, heading toward the motel, he passed by defendant HUNTER and
defendant HUNTER had a clear view of him. Defendant HUNTER saw blood on
Ronald Madison's shirt, and thought he might have been shot. Ronald
Madison, who was running with his hands in view, had no weapon and
posed no threat. Ronald Madison did not change his direction, turn
around, or stop running as he passed the LSP car. Instead, Madison
continued to run away, following his brother, who was a short distance
ahead of him. At no time as Ronald Madison ran, did defendant HUNTER
see him turn toward the officers, reach into his waistband, or make any
threatening gestures.

As the unmarked LSP car pulled to a stop, Officer A, without
warning, fired a shotgun at Ronald Madison's back as Madison ran away
in the direction of the motel. Defendant HUNTER immediately got out of
the car and went to where Ronald Madison was lying on the ground.
Ronald Madison was alive, but appeared to be dying. He was lying on his
side, with two officers standing nearby. Neither defendant HUNTER nor
either of the other officers searched Ronald Madison for a weapon.

As Ronald Madison lay dying on the pavement, Sergeant A ran down the
bridge toward Ronald and asked an officer if Ronald was "one of them."
When the officer replied in the affirmative, Sergeant A began kicking
or stomping Ronald Madison repeatedly with his foot. Sergeant A
appeared to be striking Madison's torso with as much force as he could
muster. Defendant HUNTER charged toward Sergeant A, who backed off from
Madison. As defendant HUNTER walked away, an officer standing nearby
appeared shocked that HUNTER had confronted Sergeant A.

Shortly thereafter, Sergeant A approached defendant HUNTER and
apologized for being "out of line." Sergeant A then asked HUNTER if
HUNTER "[had] a problem" with the shooting on the east side of the
Danziger Bridge.

While on the west side of the Danziger Bridge, defendant HUNTER
heard Lance Madison ask the officers why they had been shooting at him
and his brother. Lance Madison never said that he or his brother had
possessed a gun or had fired at police, and Lance Madison did not have
a gun in his possession.

HUNTER knew without question that the shootings he saw on the bridge
were "bad shoots," meaning that they were legally unjustified. HUNTER
later heard that the civilian, Ronald Madison, was a 40-year-old
severely disabled man.

Later that day, back at the Crystal Palace, defendant HUNTER met
with the sergeant assigned to investigate the case (the Investigator),
along with a lieutenant and other NOPD officers who had been in the
Budget truck on the Danziger Bridge. During a roundtable discussion of
the shootings on the Danziger Bridge, defendant HUNTER admitted that he
had fired his weapon many times on the bridge. During this meeting, the
lieutenant turned to an officer next to him and said something to the
effect of, we don't want this to look like a massacre.

During the days and weeks that followed, the Investigator, Sergeant
A, and Sergeant B met repeatedly with other officers to discuss the
shootings. The Investigator was writing the NOPD report about the
incident and defendant HUNTER understood that he would "take care of"
the shooters, meaning that he would make the shootings appear
justified. During the same time frame, defendant HUNTER understood
through his own observations and his conversations with others that the
supervisors were meeting with Officer A, who had shot and killed Ronald
Madison, to work with him on his statement.

At some point after the shooting, defendant HUNTER heard that the
Investigator was claiming to have found a gun at the scene on September
5, 2005, the day after the shooting. Defendant HUNTER concluded that
the story about the gun was false, as he had not seen any of the
civilians with guns and had not seen any guns at the scene on the day
of the incident.

The Meeting and the Taped Statements

On or about January 25, 2006, prior to giving a formal, audiotaped
statement, defendant HUNTER attended a meeting called by the
Investigator. The meeting, attended by defendant HUNTER and the other
shooters (except for the one who had resigned from NOPD), was held in
the abandoned and gutted-out Seventh District station. At the meeting,
the Investigator instructed the shooters to make sure they had their
stories straight before they gave their formal statements on tape.
Sergeant A then took the lead in explaining the false story that he
would tell to justify the shooting, and the other officers discussed
what they would say in order to remain consistent with that story.

Immediately after the meeting, defendant HUNTER met with homicide
detectives and provided a false account of the shootings that was
consistent with the false stories the shooters had just discussed.

In his audiotaped statement, defendant HUNTER told numerous lies,
and concealed the fact that he knew of and participated in a cover-up
of the Danziger Bridge shootings. Specifically, HUNTER lied when he
said that he saw civilians with firearms on the bridge; he lied when he
said that Sergeant A or any other officer yelled "police" before
shooting; he lied when he said that officers were "taking fire" on the
Danziger Bridge; he lied when he said that Lance and Ronald Madison
were armed and that one or both fired at police; and he lied when he
said that he continued on foot to the west side of the bridge. HUNTER
also intentionally misled investigators when he omitted any reference
to the fact that he and other officers had ridden down the bridge with
an LSP trooper; when he omitted that he and the LSP trooper were
present during the shooting of Ronald Madison; when he omitted that he
had seen officers shoot unarmed civilians; and when he omitted that
Sergeant A had repeatedly and violently kicked or stomped a wounded and
dying man.

False Statements to the State Grand Jury

On or about October 25, 2006, defendant HUNTER testified before a
state grand jury investigating the Danziger Bridge incident. Under
oath, HUNTER again lied about what happened on the bridge, and again
concealed the fact that he knew of and participated in a cover-up of
legally unjustified police shootings.

On the day defendant HUNTER was indicted by the state grand jury, a
female officer from the Budget truck called defendant HUNTER's home and
stated that she had been on the bridge on the day of the shooting, and
that things would be okay because she saw the civilians' guns on the
bridge and saw someone kick them off. Defendant HUNTER knew that the
statement from the officer was a lie.

Miscellaneous Matters

At no point during the investigation of the Danziger Bridge incident
did defendant HUNTER make any compelled statement to an NOPD
investigator. At no point did defendant HUNTER learn of any
administrative interviews done in the Danziger Bridge investigation.

Defendant HUNTER, like every sworn officer with NOPD, had been
trained about the proper use of physical force, including deadly force,
and about the consequences for a use of excessive force. The defendant,
along with every other sworn NOPD officer, was taught that one of the
consequences of an excessive use of force was that the FBI could
investigate the incident as a criminal matter. The defendant and every
other sworn NOPD officer also learned that an incident of excessive
force could result in a federal civil suit and/or criminal prosecution
in federal court.

Defendant HUNTER never heard anyone mention a suspect who had gotten
away during the incident on the Danziger Bridge, and never heard anyone
mention a civilian on the bridge with an assault rifle. And at no point
did anyone ever mention Lance Madison having admitted that either he or
his brother had possessed or fired a gun on the bridge that day.

Both the Government and the defendant, MICHAEL HUNTER, do hereby
stipulate and agree that the above facts are true, and that they set
forth a sufficient factual basis for the crimes to which the defendant
is pleading guilty. Both the government and the defendant also agree
that this factual basis does not contain all of the relevant
information known to the defendant. This is a sufficient factual basis,
but it is not an exhaustive statement by the defendant.

READ AND APPROVED

MICHAEL HUNTER Defendant

TOWNSEND MYERS Counsel for Defendant

BARBARA "BOBBI" BERNSTEIN Deputy Chief, Civil Rights Division

U.S. Department of Justice JULIA K. EVANS Assistant United States Attorney

 

Share This Article

More in: