In a stunning reversal, a federal judge has thrown out the landmark convictions of New Orleans police officers who shot unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and covered up those murders—ordering a retrial on the grounds of prosecutor misconduct.
"This decision reopens this terrible wound not only for our family but our entire community," Romell Madison, the brother of Lance and Ronald Madison, who was killed on the Danziger Bridge, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. "From the beginning of this ordeal, our family has sought justice, not just for ourselves, but for all the victims and families."
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered the retrial Tuesday, charging “grotesque" misconduct on the part of prosecutors, who he says authored online critiques of the defendants and the New Orleans Police Department during the trial.
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Four police officers—Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso—were sentenced in 2011 to terms ranging from 38 to 65 years in prison for shooting at unarmed African-American families fleeing the deadly floods on Danziger Bridge six days after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans. The police killed 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison and seriously wounded four others. Homicide detective Arthur Kaufman was convicted of covering up the crimes of the officers.
The case reached a high media profile when several reports emerged of police violence and murders of African-Americans in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic storm and floods. The 2011 conviction was viewed by many as an important step towards accountability for police race-based violence in the midst of a human tragedy.
The judge ordered a retrial for all five defendants convicted of civil rights violations for the shootings and coverups.