Five former New Orleans police officers pleaded guilty Wednesday to their role in the shooting of two unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, reducing the time they will spend behind bars, according to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite.
Former officers Robert Faulcon, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, and Anthony
Villavaso each pleaded guilty to three charges — deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and substantive obstruction of justice. Faulcon was sentenced to 12 years, Bowen and Gisevius to 10 years, and Villavaso to seven years.
Their former supervisor, Arthur Kaufman, who was accused of covering up the incident, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of falsification of evidence to obstruct justice. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
"While an imperfect resolution, today's proceeding ensures that these defendants are held accountable for their criminal actions," Polite said in a statement.
On September 4, 2005, six days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, James Birssette, 17, and Ronald Madison 40, were fatally shot while trying to cross the bridge to get help. Officers rushed to the scene after reports of shots being fired from the direction of the bridge.
In 2011, a jury found Bowen, Faulcon, Gisevius, and Villavaso guilty and a judge sentenced them to at least 38 years in jail.
Two years later, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt tossed the convictions citing "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct." The judge found that two prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office posted anonymous, negative comments about police in the Danzinger Bridge case on the website NOLA.com, according to the Times-Picayune.
The former officers avoided a new trial by entering plea deals and will receive credit for time served.
"While we disagreed with the legal reasoning that vacated the convictions and granted a new trial, we must undoubtedly accept the fact that the misconduct was unacceptable," Polite said in a statement.
Gerard Dugue, a sixth officer accused of helping in the cover up, was tried separately in 2012 but judge Engelhardt declared a mistrial because of the prosecutorial misconduct. No new trial has been scheduled in his case, according to the Times-Picayune.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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