Days after Hurricane Katrina a police shooting on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans left two civilians dead and four more with serious injuries. Today an additional cop was charged in that shooting bringing the number up to four officers.
The F.B.I. claims that the officers fired into a group of civilians from the east side of the bridge. One man was hit and killed at the scene and four members of a family were seriously wounded. The officers then traveled to the west side of the bridge where they meet up with Lance and Ronald Madison. The Madison brothers were on their way to the dentistry office of another one of their brothers. It is alleged that on the west side of the bridge an officer shot and killed Ronald Madison, 40. Madison had severe mental and physical disabilities.
A one-count bill of information filed today in federal court charges New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Officer Robert Barrios with conspiring with fellow New Orleans Police Department officers to obstruct justice by covering up a police-involved shooting. The bill of information charges Barrios with agreeing to obstruct justice during the investigations that followed the shooting with other officers. The bill of information states that Barrios and other officers discussed stories they would tell about what happened on the bridge and that they gathered on January 25, 2006 at an abandoned and gutted out building to discuss again what would be told on tape. It is being alleged that the purpose of the conspiracy Barrios joined was to provide false and misleading information in order to ensure that the shootings would appear to be legally justified and that the involved officers would therefore be shielded from liability. The defendant faces a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
According to a F.B.I. press release charges against Barrios follow guilty pleas from three other officers connected with the case.
Michael Lohman, a former lieutenant, pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice, and admitted that he knew of, facilitated and participated in the creation of false reports about the shooting.
Jeffrey Lehrmann, a former New Orleans Police Department detective who then became an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pleaded guilty to covering up a felony, and admitted that he had participated in the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge shooting. During his plea hearing Lehrmann admitted that officers had worked together to provide false statements and that a supervisor assigned to investigate the case had planted evidence and made up witnesses.
On April 7, 2010, former New Orleans Police Department Officer Michael Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice and to covering up a felony he observed while he was on the bridge on Sept. 4, 2005. During his plea hearing Hunter stated that he had driven the truck to the bridge on the day of the shooting and opened fire on civilians that did not appear to be armed. Hunter said that the civilians were “casually walking on the roadway” when the police arrived. According to his statement Hunter said that a supervisor at the scene held out his assault rifle and, in a sweeping motion, fired repeatedly at civilians who had, by that time, taken cover behind a concrete barrier. According to Hunter another New Orleans Police Department officer shot Madison in the back, without warning, as Madison ran away, unarmed, following his brother toward a nearby motel. Hunter also stated that the supervisor who had fired into the group on the east side of the bridge repeatedly kicked or stomped on Madison as he lay wounded and dying.
This case, which is ongoing, is being investigated by the New Orleans Field Office of the FBI, and is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Forrest Christian of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana.