3 New Orleans police officers plead not guilty in shootings of 2 on bridge after Katrina

By Mary Foster, AP
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

3 officers plead not guilty in Katrina shootings

NEW ORLEANS — Three officers pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the shooting deaths of two unarmed residents on a New Orleans bridge in the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina.

Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen and Officer Anthony Villavaso stood before a federal magistrate in green prison garb, shackled at the waist and ankles. They will remain jailed at least until a hearing Friday.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office said the Justice Department hasn’t decided whether to seek the death penalty against them and former officer Robert Faulcon, who was arrested in Texas on Tuesday and has not entered a plea.

The case is one of several probes of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police officers that the Justice Department opened after the August 2005 storm.

Five former officers already have pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shootings, which happened in the midst of another of the scorching days after Katrina. Bodies floated in filthy flood waters. Shots could be heard throughout the city, and many believed they were aimed at the endless stream of helicopters, the police, the rescue crews.

Police were desperate to regain control amid the looting, the death and the people needing rescue. So when gunfire was heard at the Danziger Bridge, some of the responding officers fired back at the first people they saw.

The call came in that police were taking fire at the bridge, and seven heavily armed New Orleans police officers — many with weapons not issued by the police department — stormed the bridge.

Two civilians died on the Danziger Bridge that day, four others lay on the hot cement bleeding, and one man was handcuffed and forced to kneel as his brother died.

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