Former New Orleans officers plead guilty in Danziger Bridge shootings

The shootings happened on Danziger Bridge, six days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

Story highlights

  • Police killed two people and seriously wounded four at Danziger Bridge
  • Five officers, charged in 2010, received sentences that range from three to 12 years
  • They were originally sentenced to six to 65 years, but convictions were overturned

(CNN)Five former New Orleans police officers pleaded guilty Wednesday and were sentenced in connection with the deadly shootings of six unarmed people on the Danziger Bridge days after Hurricane Katrina.

The defendants also pleaded guilty for their roles in an extensive cover-up of the shooting, a scarring episode in New Orleans that compounded the devastation of the flooding.
    But their sentences -- from three to 12 years in prison -- are remarkably less severe than the six to 65 years in prison they were originally sentenced to back in 2012.
    U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite called the outcome an imperfect resolution.
    "Today's proceeding ensures that these defendants are held accountable for their criminal actions," Polite said in a statement. "As the son and brother of police officers, I know all too well that serving as an officer is perhaps the most complex and difficult job in our society. At the same time, when individuals ignore their oath of office, and instead violate the civil rights of the public they are sworn to serve, they will be held accountable."
    On September 4, 2005, initial police accounts said officers responded to reports of gunshots on the bridge and that a running gunbattle ensued with six suspects. Two people, a disabled man and teenager, were killed and four were seriously wounded in what officers involved claimed was self-defense.
    A witness, however, told CNN in 2006 that police lined up "like at a firing range" and fatally shot an unarmed man in the back as he fled from them. Others on the bridge said police ambushed them.
    The shootings sparked protests and calls for justice. The five officers were charged in 2010 with opening fire on an unarmed family and others attempting to flee the scene. They were found guilty of 25 counts of civil rights violations; in 2012 they were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years.
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    In an appeal, the defendants presented evidence that at least three Justice Department officials used a variety of online identities to trash-talk the defendants on a newspaper website. The comments fueled a "21st century carnival atmosphere" that tainted the 2011 trial and required a new one, U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt wrote in a 129-page ruling throwing out the convictions and granting a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.
    The decision was affirmed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the matter returned to the trial court for further proceedings, leading to Wednesday's pleas.
    Leonard Bartholomew III, one of the victims, along with his wife and daughter, said the officers should have received longer sentences. "All along, they lied to us, they said we had guns. We didn't have no guns. They shot my wife, they had to take her arm off," he said.
    "I just hope things get better. I just hope things get a little bit better."
    New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu tweeted his support for the victims Wednesday.
    He also promised institutional change within the police force.
    "It is unfortunate that New Orleans has had to relive this dark chapter in our city's history, and I hope that the decision today will allow us to finally turn the page and begin to heal," Landrieu said in a statement, adding that police will use technology such as body cameras.
    Here's what each defendant received:
    • Kenneth Bowen pleaded guilty to three counts: deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice by engaging in misleading conduct, respectively. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by up to five years of supervised release on two counts and up to three years on the third count.
    • Robert Gisevius pleaded guilty to three counts: deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice by engaging in misleading conduct, respectively. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by up to five years of supervised release on two counts and up to three years on the third.
    • Robert Faulcon pleaded guilty to three counts; deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice by engaging in misleading conduct, respectively. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, to be followed by up to five years of supervised release on two counts and up to three years on the third.
    • Anthony Villavaso pleaded guilty to three counts: deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice by engaging in misleading conduct, respectively. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, to be followed by up to five years of supervised release on two counts and up to three years on the third.
    • Arthur Kaufman pleaded guilty to two counts: conspiracy to obstruct justice and falsification of evidence to obstruct justice, respectively. He was sentenced to three years in prison, to be followed by up to three years of supervised release on one count and up to five years on the other.