|Judge Throws Out Conviction of Hurricane Katrina Cops Who Killed on Bridge|
|By COLLEEN CURRY||Sep 18, 2013, 9:45 AM|
The family members of an unarmed man who was shot and killed on a highway bridge during the chaos of Hurricane Katrina said today that their "wound" has been reopened after a judge overturned the convictions of police officers who killed him.
The guilty verdicts against five New Orleans police officers for shooting and killing two men on the Danziger Bridge after Katrina were thrown out by federal Judge Kurt Engelhardt on Tuesday after prosecutors were found to have made anonymous comments online about the case during the trial.
The "Danziger Bridge" case became emblematic of a chaotic New Orleans rife with government and law enforcement problems in the weeks after Katrina struck the city in 2005. Five former NOPD officers, including Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Vallavaso were convicted for their roles in firing upon unarmed civilians on the bridge on Sept. 4, 2005.
The officers killed two individuals and injured others, including Lance Madison, who was arrested for attempting to kill police officers and later released.
A sixth cop, Arthur Kaufman, was convicted of helping to cover up the crime.
The family of one victim, Ronald Madison, said they were "extremely disappointed" in Engelhardt's decision.
"It has been over eight years since our brother Ronald was shot and killed on the Danziger Bridge and our brother Lance was falsely arrested and framed on eight counts of murder," the family said in a statement obtained by ABC News affiliate WGNO. "This decision reopens this terrible wound not only for our family, but our entire community."
Engelhardt issued a 129-page decision explaining his reasons for overturning the officers' convictions. He noted that three government attorneys allegedly posted comments anonymously on NOLA.com about the case, including former U.S. prosecutors Sal Perricone, Jan Mann and Karla Dobinski. Engelhardt also said former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten knew about it and did nothing.
Among the "inflammatory" comments cited by Engelhardt were Perricone's anti-police postings on the website that continued through the trial, in which he called the NOPD "corrupt and ineffectual, totally dysfunctional" and "a joke for a long time," according to court documents.
Perricone and Mann resigned in 2012 when the allegations of online misconduct first surfaced, the U.S. Attorney's office said today.
The Department of Justice was unsure of the employment status of Dobinski, who was based in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans said in a statement that it was disappointed with Engelhardt's ruling and was considering its options. It could appeal the decision or decide to retry the former officers.