Four New Orleans police officers face possible death sentences as part of a federal indictment that accuses them in separate shootings that killed two and wounded four others in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Tuesday's indictment, the culmination of a lengthy inquiry into an incident that helped define the dysfunction of post-Katrina New Orleans, also named two police officials who are charged with lesser counts of obstructing the inquiry.
"In the days following Katrina, the people of New Orleans were relying upon law enforcement to protect public safety," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez said. "The officers indicted today are accused of abusing their power ."
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The most serious charges center on the alleged actions of Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, Officer Robert Faulcon and Officer Anthony Villavaso.
The four are charged first with shooting into a group of six unarmed people who were walking across the city's Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, in search of food and other scarce supplies, killing James Brissette, 17, and wounding four others.
A short time later, according to court papers, the officers fired on two unarmed brothers while they were on their way to check on a relative's property. Ronald Madison, a severely disabled 40-year-old man, was fatally shot in the back. The indictment alleges that Faulcon shot Madison and charges Bowen with "stomping and kicking" the victim while he was wounded but not yet dead.
Madison's brother, Lance Madison, 49, was later arrested and accused of attempting to murder police officers, according to court documents. He was held three weeks before a judge ordered his release.
The indictment accuses the officers' supervisors, Arthur Kaufman and Gerard Dugue, of conspiring to cover up the crimes.
Frank DeSalvo, the chief attorney for the New Orleans police association who also is representing Bowen, said government prosecutors had simply assembled information to support their "own opinion of what happened." "It's a shame they have taken this position," he said. "We're going to play the cards we've been dealt and we'll deal a few of our own."
The indictment comes after five other New Orleans officers pleaded guilty earlier this year to participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and cover up police behavior in the aftermath of the shootings.
James Letten, the chief federal prosecutor in New Orleans, said Tuesday's indictment offered "compelling evidence" against officers who "abused their power in committing violent crimes against unarmed citizens they were sworn to protect."