The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision that would grant new trials to five police officers convicted of shooting and covering up the deaths of two unarmed civilians on a New Orleans bridge in 2005.
According to The New York Daily News, the 7-7 tied decision effectively upholds a ruling by U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt. He ordered new trials after it was discovered that a prosecutor had made anonymous comments about the case on a newspaper website.
New Orleans police officers Robert Faulcon Jr., Robert Gisevius Jr., Kenneth Bowen, Anthony Villavaso and Archie Kaufman were convicted for shooting and covering up the deaths of Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, during the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The officers, who were not wearing uniforms and driving an unmarked car, responded to a call about officers being fired upon. They opened fire on the Bartholomew family and their friends, who had been walking to a grocery store and were seeking shelter under a bridge. The police officers used weapons such as an unauthorized AK-47 and a M4 carbine.
Multiple shots were fired at the Bartholomew family, who were unarmed. Susan Bartholomew was struck in the arm, which was later amputated. Ronald Madison, a family friend, was struck in the back five times and died from his injuries. Lance Madison, Ronald’s brother, was arrested and charged with eight counts of attempting kill a police officer. He was held for three weeks and released when the charges were dropped.
The cops, with the help of other New Orleans police officers, conspired to cover up the shootings. The officers falsely claimed they were fired on first. Homicide detective Archie Kaufman was later found guilty of conspiring with the defendants to conceal and falsify information. According to CNN, former police lieutenant Michael Lohman plead guilty to conspiring with the defendants to conceal evidence and obstruct justice.
Thomas E. Perez, who was assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department at the time, told The New York Times this was the worst case of police misconduct he had seen since the Rodney King beating case.
“I have in particular observed in the New Orleans Police Department that the code of silence was seemingly impenetrable,” said Perez.
The five officers involved in the shooting and cover-up later received sentences ranging from six to 40 years in jail.
The latest legal ruling grants new trials to Sgts. Gisevius and Bowen and former officers Villavaso and Faulcon in the shooting and cover-up. Former Sgt. Kaufman gets a new trial in the cover-up alone, according to The New York Daily News.