Five former New Orleans police officers were sentenced to long prison terms Wednesday for their roles in the shootings at a bridge that left two civilians dead and four others wounded in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
A federal judge sentenced four of the officers convicted of participating in the shootings to terms ranging from 38 years to 65 years, according to local media reports. The fifth officer received six years for covering up the killings.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt called it “a sad day for New Orleans” and also criticized the plea bargains that other officers got in exchange for cooperating with the government, NOLA.com reported.
“Using liars to convict liars is no way to pursue justice,” Engelhardt said, according to NOLA.com.
The Justice Department hailed the lengthy sentences in a case that shed a national spotlight on New Orleans police corruption as testament that “no one is above the law.”
“We hope that today’s sentences give a measure of peace and closure to the victims of this terrible shooting, who have suffered unspeakable pain and who have waited so patiently for justice to be done,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement. “The officers who shot innocent people on the bridge and then went to great lengths to cover up their own crimes have finally been held accountable for their actions. As a result of today’s sentencing, the city of New Orleans can take another step forward.”
Kenneth Bowen, 38; Robert Gisevius, 39; Anthony Villavaso, 35; and Robert Faulcon, 48, were convicted in August of civil-rights violations and firearms and other charges in the shootings, according to The Associated Press. Retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, was convicted of helping orchestrate the cover-up.
Faulcon received the stiffest sentence, 65 years. Bowen and Gisevius each got 40 years, and Villavaso got 38 years. Kaufman got the lightest sentence, six years.
Bowen, Gisevius, Villavaso and Faulcon were among about a dozen officers who responded to a radio call that someone was shooting at police near the Danziger Bridge in east New Orleans on Sept. 4, 2005. That was less than a week after Katrina made landfall, swamping a good part of the city and leading to televised scenes of looting and lawlessness in some neighborhoods.
Witnesses testified that the officers jumped out of a truck and fired with AK-47s and shotguns at unarmed civilians walking on the bridge.
The officers later claimed they shot only after being threatened or fired on and that they had seen weapons in the victims’ hands.
Prosecutors said the people on the bridge were families seeking food.
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