To some in New Orleans, just hearing the name Katrina is enough to make their balls climb up into their body. No girls born in or around the lower Louisiana will be named Katrina for probably another hundred years.
For others, the hurricane was just the beginning. The people dispatched to help the residents through this time of peril proved to be just as lethal as all the water.
But they were no match for a federal court.
On Friday, Officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavasoare, along with former detective Arthur Kaufman, were convicted in the September 4, 2005 shooting deaths of seventeen-year-old James Brissette and forty-year-old Ronald Madison. There were also four others involved in the incident, who were wounded. Other officers have already been convicted.
Occuring six days after most of the city found itself recreating the lost city of Atlantis, the police were allegedly responding to a call about gunshots fired. Officers indicate they entered into a running gun fight with looters. Lance and Ronald Madison were searching for shelter when they crossed the Danzinger Bridge, and unknowingly came upon the pillagers. When the Madisons ran for safety, Ronald, unarmed, hands clearly visible, and running away from the officers. He posed no threat. One of the previously convicted officers, Michael Hunter, admitted that police fired at civilians, even though they didn’t look to be be armed.
The quality of the investigation for these shootings (including ones that occurred outside of September 4th) has been called into question. The investigations were rudimentary at best. From August 29 to September 12, very few reports were filed for shootings, or any other violent crimes. When homicide detectives conducted interviews with any of the officers responsible for the shootings, they took less than 15 minutes – nowhere near long enough to get into a detailed Q&A summary. Job interviews last longer than that, and these were supposed to be about the loss of someone’s life.
No other witnesses (civilians) were ever questioned for their accounts. The officers involved corroborated each other. The thin blue line remained strong with the NOPD. Local prosecution filed charges against a multitude of other officers, but none stuck. The DA declined to press charges in many cases. Swooping in to save the day, federal prosecution took over.
Some examples of the shoddy investigative work included a 12-page report by homicide detective DeCynda Barnes that stated civilian Danny Brumfield was shot in the left shoulder. The unarmed man was shot in the back, and under 2007 questioning, Barnes admitted that she never read the autopsy. Another man was shot multiple times for aiming a handgun. When officers approached him after, they couldn’t find a weapon. Another man was shot in the back with an assault rifle. His family was informed that he was killed by a fellow civilian, probably a looter.
An amazing timeline, chronicling the horror in New Orleans during the reign of Katrina can be found here. If you think your day is bad, just take a look at some of the lunacy that befell the city (The little blue lines and colored numbers at the top link you to the individual stories).
As much as this comes almost as a ‘too-little-too-late’ response, seeing as how it’s been proven that the government response was unacceptable, and a complete leadership failure, one has to applaud the Federal Courts for digging deeper, not merely accepting local investigations as complete, and for the jury arriving at the decision that they did.
“Today’s verdict by these jurors sends a powerful, a powerful, unmistakable message to public servants, to law enforcement officers and to the citizens we serve and indeed to the world,” U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said.
“That message is that public officials and especially law enforcement officers will be held accountable for their acts, and that any abuse of power, especially that power that violates the rights and the civil liberties of our citizens, will have serious consequences.”
“The citizens of this country will not, should not, and we intend that they will never have to fear the individuals who are called upon to protect them,” Letten declared.
Let it rain, Letten, let it rain.