Five former New Orleans police officers were sentenced Wednesday to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for their roles in deadly shootings of unarmed residents in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, with the judge lashing out at prosecutors for two hours on their handling of the case.
Police shot six people at the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, killing two, less than a week after Katrina made landfall. To make the shootings appear justified, officers conspired to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports. The case became the centerpiece of the Justice Department’s push to clean up the troubled New Orleans Police Department.
Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon were convicted of federal firearms charges that carried mandatory minimum prison sentences of at least 35 years. Retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, was convicted of helping orchestrate the cover-up.
Faulcon, who was convicted in both fatal shootings, faces the stiffest sentence of 65 years. Bowen and Gisevius each face 40 years, while Villavaso was sentenced to 38. Kaufman received the lightest sentence at six years.
Afterward, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt accused prosecutors of cutting overly lenient plea deals with five other officers who cooperated with the civil rights investigation. The former officers pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shooting and are already serving prison terms ranging from three to eight years.
“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.
The judge also questioned the credibility of the officers who pleaded guilty and testified against those who went to trial.
“Citing witnesses for perjury at this trial would be like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500,” Engelhardt said.