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Five cops on trial over killings after Hurricane Katrina

The New Orleans police officers shot two people dead in the flooded city, then tried to cover up their actions, a court was told yesterday.

The devastated Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
The devastated Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Image: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

FIVE NEW ORLEANS police officers were in court yesterday as their trial began for allegedly killing two men without justification in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Four people were also wounded in the shootings on September 4 2005, which prosecutors claim were later covered up for years. According to the New York Times, assistant US attorney Bobbi Bernstein told the federal court: “Shoot first and ask questions later. That’s how this whole case got started.”

Ronald Madison, 40, and 17-year-old James Brissett were both killed by police bullets at Danziger Bridge in then-flooded New Orleans. Ms Bernstein said the officers continued to shoot at members of one family as they lay wounded; one shot Mr Madison in the back as he fled, and another stamped on him as he lay dying. She added when the officers realised they had made a mistake, they arranged fake witnesses and planned to drop a gun at the scene, the BBC reports.

Former and current officers Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius, Kenneth Bowen and Anthony Villavaso are charged with the shootings. Arthur Kaufman faces charges over the alleged cover-up.

Defense lawyers argued that the city was in chaos and the men should be viewed as heroes, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. One told the court: “They stayed. They stayed and they did their jobs under these horrible, horrible circumstances [...] And they did the best they could.”

Meanwhile  Susan Bartholomew, who was wounded in the shootings, told the court she remembers lying on the concrete bridge as the men firing ordered her to put her hands up. She said: “I couldn’t do it, because my arm was shot off. I raised the only hand I had.”

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Michael Freeman

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