Five former New Orleans police officers were sentenced to decades in prison on Wednesday for their roles in the deadly shootings of unarmed civilians on a bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city in September 2005.
The four defendants convicted in participating in the shootings -- Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavoso and Robert Faulcon -- each face prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for their roles in the incident, which claimed the lives of two civilians and severely injured four others. Retired Sgt. Arthur Archie Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, was sentenced to six years for orchestrating a coverup of the incident after he was found to have authored several police reports containing fabricated information.
On the morning of Sept. 4, 2005, a group of civilians were reportedly crossing the city's Danziger Bridge in search of food and other supplies when police arrived. The officers said they received calls that shots were being fired.
The officers falsely reported that seven police officers were called to the scene in response to a police dispatch reporting an officer down. In addition, the officers initially claimed at least four people were firing weapons at them upon their arrival, an accusation that was ultimately revealed to be untrue, according to a report from the U.S. District Court of Eastern Louisiana.
Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and 17-year-old James Brissette were killed after a Budget truck full of police officers sped to the bridge on the morning of Sept. 4, according to the Times-Picayune. Prosecutors claim the officers opened fire on a concrete barrier shielding civilians with automatic weapons and then conspired to plant a gun, fabricate witness statements and falsify reports to make the shootings appeared justified.
Faulcon, who reportedly killed Madison by firing a shotgun into his back, was convicted to 65 years in prison. As the only officer directly tied to the fatal shootings, he received the stiffest sentence.
Bowen was sentenced to 40 years. Prosecutors say he sat in the front passenger seat of the Budget truck and then fired at the bridge's concrete barrier with an AK-47 as civilians huddled for cover. Meanwhile, Gisevius was also sentenced to 40 years in prison for opening fire with a M-4 rifle, and for his role in orchestrating the years-long coverup of what actually occurred on the bridge.
Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years in prison for targeting civilians with an AK-47.
During the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt accused local prosecutors of agreeing to overly lenient plea deals with five other officers who cooperated in the investigation, all of whom pleaded guilty to the coverup in exchange for lighter sentences.
These through-the-looking-glass plea deals that tied the hands of this court ... are an affront to the court and a disservice to the community, Engelhardt said, according to The Associated Press.
In particular, Engelhardt chastised prosecutors for initially seeking a 20-year prison sentence for Kaufman, while Michael Lohman -- the highest-ranking officer at the scene of the shooting -- got four years for pleading guilty to participating in the coverup.
Lance Madison, whose brother Ronald was gunned down on the day of the incident, told the courtroom on Wednesday that his brother was killed without mercy by police.
You are the reason I can no longer trust law enforcement, Madison said, according to the Times-Picayune.
Bowen, Gisevius and Villavaso were fired from the New Orleans Police Department before their sentencing. Faulcon reportedly quit shortly after the incident occurred, while Kaufman retired before last year's trial.