Citing “highly unusual, extensive and truly bizarre actions,” United States District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt has granted a new trial for five New Orleans ex-police officers: Archie Kaufman, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, and Anthony Villavaso. The men were originally convicted on 25 counts of civil rights violations for the fatal shooting of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In a 129-page ruling, Engelhardt wrote:
This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law and corruption of the criminal justice system; unfortunately, though the focus has switched from the accused to the accusers, it has continued to be about those very issues. After much reflection, the court cannot journey as far as it has in this case only to ironically accept grotesque prosecutorial misconduct in the end.
The “grotesque misconduct” cited includes the behavior of at least three Justice Department officials who posted “egregious and inflammatory” comments about the case on the internet.
The Danziger Bridge incident has long been a source of controversy.
On Sept. 4, 2005, six days after Hurricane Katrina swallowed much of New Orleans, police received a call that two officers were shot near the Danziger Bridge; they rushed to the scene and opened fire. James Brissette,17, and Ronald Madison, 40, were killed. Madison, a mentally disabled man, was shot in the back. Four others were wounded. All victims were unarmed. The officers claimed self-defense.
All five men were originally handed heavy prison sentences, ranging between six and 65 years, according to CNN. The date of the new trial is yet to be determined.