By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, from the New York Times.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge sentenced five former police officers to years in prison for the deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina but not before lashing out at prosecutors for allowing others involved to serve lighter penalties for their crimes. The case that wrapped up Wednesday was the centerpiece of a Justice Department push to clean up New Orleans’ police department that has long been tainted with corruption.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt expressed frustration that he was bound by mandatory minimum sentencing laws to imprison former Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius and former officers Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon for decades when other officers who engaged in similar conduct on the Danziger Bridge — but cut deals with prosecutors — are serving no more than eight years behind bars.
“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,” he said.
Police gunned down 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who were both unarmed, and wounded four others on Sept. 4, 2005, less than a week after the storm devastated New Orleans. To cover it up, the officers planted a gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports. Defense attorneys have indicated they will appeal.
Engelhardt also criticized prosecutors for the different ways they charged those who didn’t cooperate with a Justice Department civil rights investigation and those who did. The charges were filed in such a way that they left judges with little discretion in handing out sentences in each set of cases, Engelhardt said.
Faulcon received the stiffest sentence of 65 years. Bowen and Gisevius each got 40 years while Villavaso was sentenced to 38. All four were convicted of federal firearms charges that carried mandatory minimum sentences ranging from 35 to 60 years in prison. Faulcon was convicted in both deadly shootings.
“The court imposes them purely as a matter of statutory mandate,” Engelhardt said.
Retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, received six years in prison — a sentence below the federal guidelines. Kaufman wasn’t charged in the shootings but was convicted of helping orchestrate the cover-up.