Circling the steps outside U.S. District Court on Poydras Street were members and supporters of the National Action Network, the civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. An Atlanta mother, whose son was participating in this week's Junior Olympics, snapped pictures as trial members sped past reporters following the Danziger Bridge trial's verdict. One man noted the crowd, mostly reporters and camera crews, and said, "The whole world should be out here."
Minutes before, inside the court house, a federal jury found five current New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers guilty on all 25 counts in the Danziger Bridge shooting trial, in which NOPD shot and covered-up the shooting of unarmed civilians following Hurricane Katrina. The men — Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius, Arthur Kaufman and Anthony Villavaso — were convicted on charges that included falsification of witness statements, fabrication of evidence, making false statements to the FBI, deprivation of civil rights, and obstruction of justice.
Kaufman remained free on bond; the other men will be held until sentencing Dec. 14.
Prosecutors claimed NOPD officers shot six civilians on the bridge over the Industrial Canal several days after Hurricane Katrina, killing two of them, James Brissette and Ronald Madison. However, the jury did not find Brissette and Madison’s shootings constituted murder.
Following the verdict, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten appeared outside the court house with members of Ronald Madison and James Brissette's families. "Today's verdict brings a lot of sadness to families out there. Whenever things like this happen, families ... suffer as well," Letten said. "This is an important case, but it's also a case from which we have to move forward. Hopefully this case will not divide but bring this community together." Letten added that the case is a victory for the city, state and country, though NOPD and other agencies still have "a lot of work to do," but the culture that "fed and supported a code of silence" among authorities is being "shattered every day," he told Gambit. Letten also said he hopes NOPD will become a "world class police department" and one of the country's best.
The Madison family said they're grateful for the closure of the verdict, but their healing process will be ongoing.
Stay tuned for Clancy DuBos' analysis at www.blogofneworleans.com.