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Officers accused of shooting unarmed people to go on trial

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The shootings occurred at a bridge on September 4, 2005, six days after Hurricane Katrina
  • Two people were killed and four were wounded in the shootings
  • Several other officers have already been convicted in connection with the shootings
  • One of those officers is Michael Hunter who may be a key witness in the upcoming trial

(CNN) -- A dark chapter in Louisiana's history will be revisited Wednesday as five current and former New Orleans officers go on trial and face charges of covering up shootings of civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The case involves the infamous shootings on Danziger Bridge and the trial is scheduled to start Wednesday morning in federal court in New Orleans.

Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman all face counts related to the 2005 incident that include conspiracy, weapons charges and obstruction of justice.

The shootings occurred at the bridge on September 4, 2005, six days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.

An indictment alleges that two separate shootings at the bridge resulted in the deaths of a teenager and a 40-year-old disabled man.

The indictment contends officers opened fire, killing 19-year-old James Brissette. Minutes later, an officer allegedly shot and killed 40-year-old Ronald Madison.

Four others were wounded in the shootings.

Local prosecutors first investigated the shootings, charges were filed but no one was convicted. Federal prosecutors then moved in and launched a new investigation.

Other officers have already been convicted in connection with shooting including Michael Hunter who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Hunter was sentenced to eight years in prison and is believed to be a key witness in the trial against the others officers.

A CNN special, "Shoot to Kill," examined the shootings at the bridge and other police actions in the days after Katrina.

It was a week of dire flooding, rampant looting and death by drowning. Police were strained, beset by suicides and desertion.

Lance Madison told CNN about how he and his brother left their flooded home and were crossing the bridge to find shelter. They were unwittingly headed to an area where armed looters were marauding.

According to court documents, Hunter drove to Danziger Bridge in a rental truck carrying officers in response to a radio call about gunshots and reports that officers on the nearby Interstate 10 bridge had come under fire.

At the time, New Orleans police said they got into a running gun battle with several people.

That's when officers encountered the Madisons.

Lance Madison told CNN that police officers were the only ones shooting, as he and his brother ran for safety from the area. A witness told CNN in 2006 that police shot Ronald Jackson in the back as he ran toward a motel at the bottom of the bridge.

"Hunter ... admitted that he was present on the west side of the Danziger Bridge when an officer, identified as Officer A, shot and killed Ronald Madison, a civilian who was running away from officers with his hands in view, and did not have a weapon or pose a threat," the Justice Department said in a statement.

Hunter admitted that officers on the east side of the Danziger Bridge fired at civilians, even though the civilians did not appear to have any weapons, the Justice Department said.