Submitted by Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
A sad chapter on Hurricane Katrina closed yesterday with convictions by a federal jury of five New Orleans police officers stationed on the now infamous Danziger Bridge. The five were accused of killing two unarmed civilians and wounding four others and then engaging in a brazen five year coverup. However the jury did not find that the deaths of teenager James Bissette and mentally challeneged Ronald Madison constituted murder. Rather the killings were found to be a deprivation of civil rights.
The New Orleans Police Department, long plagued by claims of corruption, discrimination, and incompetence by civil rights activists, was strained to the point of breaking when Katrina caught the City and the Nation off-guard. Unable to muster a plan for dealing with public order when the storm breached the surrounding levees, the Big Easy degenerated into chaos with every man, woman and child for themselves. The federal government slow to react, compounded the incompetence of state and local officials.
In this environment, some members NOPD became little more than another gang of armed men securing their territory and engaging in government sponsored mayhem unprecedented in modern America. The events of September 4, 2005 unfoldeed this way. “After hearing a distress call over the radio from another officer who said men were shooting at police on the nearby Interstate 10 bridge, a group of cops piled into a Budget rental truck and headed to the Danziger Bridge, the portion of Chef Menteur Highway that spans the Industrial Canal.
Officer Michael Hunter, who drove the truck, fired warning shots out the window as the truck neared the bridge. He stopped the truck behind the Bartholomew family, near the bridge’s eastern terminus. Police jumped out and began shooting, eventually killing one member of the party — Brissette — and wounding four others: Jose Holmes, 19; his aunt, Susan Bartholomew, his uncle, Leonard Bartholomew III, and a teenage cousin, Lesha Bartholomew.
The victims, who had sought cover behind a concrete barrier on the side of the bridge, were riddled with gunshots. On a video shot by a news crew on the nearby Interstate 10, almost a minute of gunfire was audible, some of it the characteristic rapid fire of assault rifles.
Brissette was shot numerous times, from the heel of his foot to his head. He was killed by shotgun pellets that struck the back of his head, experts testified. Susan Bartholomew’s arm was nearly blown off by a large-caliber round, and it was later amputated; she had to raise her left hand on the trial’s first day to be sworn in as a witness. Her daughter’s legs were torn apart by bullets. Holmes was struck several times, from his face to his abdomen, and had to wear a colostomy bag for years after the shooting.
Police then chased down Ronald and Lance Madison, who had been walking toward the Gentilly side of the bridge, a ways ahead of the Bartholomew family. Hearing the gunfire, the Madisons began to run. Ronald Madison, 40, was injured. Eventually, Faulcon killed him with a shotgun blast to the back as he ran away.”
The coverup was equally eggregious with Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, who was not involved in the shootings, but under the guise of investigating the incident coordinated a massive fraud on the public involving planting of evidence and framing the citizens on the bridge with firing at police. The jury found Kaufman guilty of every allegation in the indictment about the cover-up, including inventing phony witnesses who said police acted properly.
The only solace for teh defense was that the jury apprently felt the officers did not intend to murder the victims but it’s small solace indeed as the men face mandatory sentences of from 35 to 60 years in federal prison.
One of the prosecutors summed up the case this way. “They thought because of Katrina no one was watching,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Carter. “They thought they could do what they wanted to do and there wouldn’t be any consequences.”
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger