Nearly five years after a federal jury found them guilty of either gunning down unarmed civilians or covering up the incident on New Orleans’ Danziger Bridge, five former police officers have entered guilty pleas as part of a deal with the government. On September 4, 2005, the group of New Orleans police officers opened fire with AK-47s on families crossing the bridge in search of food. Two people, teenager James Brisette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, were killed.

Four more were injured. Police later tried to cover-up the case. On Wednesday, five police officers pled guilty to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and civil rights charges. Their sentences range from 3 to 12 years.  The deal sharply reduces the penalties they faced before their initial convictions were overturned in 2013 over prosecutorial misconduct.

In court, former Officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and Anthony Villavaso pleaded guilty to three counts each: deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice by engaging in misleading conduct.  The four officers directly involved in the shootings have been in prison since 2010.

Arthur Kaufman, the former officers’ supervisor who was accused of arranging a cover-up, pleaded guilty to two counts: conspiracy to obstruct justice and falsification of evidence to obstruct justice.

Their punishments are markedly less severe than those the officers received four years ago: While their previous sentences had carried a collective weight of more than 200 years in prison, the plea deal reduces that to less than 45 years in total.

When the officers were initially found guilty, both Bowen and Gisevius were facing prison terms of 40 years each but the new deal reduces their sentences to 10 years.  Villavaso faced 38 years but the deal shortens his sentence to just seven years.  Faulcon got the most time: 65 years for killing a mentally ill man with a shotgun blast to the back.   His new prison sentence would be for 12 years.

Kaufman, their supervising officer who arranged the cover-up, initially was ordered to spend six years in prison got his sentence reduced to 3 years.  All of the former officers’ arrangements with prosecutors give them credit for time served and include up to five years of supervised release. The case of a sixth former officer is still pending, federal prosecutors say.

 

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