Two years ago, five former New Orleans police officers were found guilty on charges of crimes against civil rights and using a weapon in a crime of violence after shooting and killing two unarmed citizens during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. On Wednesday, however, a federal court overturned the convictions and ordered a new trial for the former police officers involved in the Danziger Bridge shootings.
The families of the victims, 17-year-old James Brissette and mentally disabled 40-year-old Ronald Madison, were devastated after hearing about the decision. Sherrel Johnson, the mother of the teenager Brissette, was shocked. “Is my son going to get a new lease on life? Is he coming back? What about the mental anguish that these people put us through?” Johnson asked. “It is not fair to make us sit through that again.”
Witnesses said that after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, several police officers used shotguns and assault rifles to open fire on unarmed citizens on Danziger Bridge. In addition to the two men who died, four others were shot on the bridge.
The men involved, Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, Officer Anthony Villavaso and Officer Robert Faulcon, eventually turned themselves in following complaints. It took years to build the case against the police officers involved in the Danziger Bridge shootings, as the indictments were originally dismissed. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI investigated the case and filed charges.
U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Englehardt made his decision on Wednesday because of the actions of the prosecutors involved. Three government attorneys posted "inflammatory" comments about the case online. The attorneys involved are U.S. prosecutors Sal Perricone, Jan Mann and Karla Dobinski, plus former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Englehardt wasn't happy about ordering a new trial, but thought it was necessary because of "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct."
One of the federal prosecutors in the Danziger Bridge shootings posted the following comments online while the case was in progress:
"NONE of these guys should had have [sic] ever been given a badge," the commenter, identified only as "legacyusa," wrote. "We should research how they got on the police department, who trained them, who supervised them and why were they ever been promoted. You put crap in--you get crap out!!!"
Do you think the Danziger Bridge convictions should have been overturned and a new trial ordered? Add your comments below.
Many people on Twitter were shocked after the ruling was announced.
They did NOT just overturn the Danziger Bridge case. #disbelief
— Johnice №La (@JohniceNola) September 17, 2013
— PulpNews Crime (@PulpNews) September 18, 2013
— Diana Danis (@diana_danis) September 18, 2013