* Police convicted of civil rights violations, not murder
* All five officers could get life sentences
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A federal juryFriday
found four New Orleans police officers guilty in the shooting
deaths of two civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina and also convicted a former policeman of helping cover
up the killings.
The jury's decision means the deaths of Ronald Madison, 40,
and James Brissette, 17, were the result of police willfully
violating the victims' civil rights but that the slayings were
Four people also were seriously injured in the shootings on
the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, after the officers
responded to a call about gunfire.
The five convicted officers could be sentenced to life in
"Today's verdict sends a powerful, a powerful unmistakable
message," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, speaking to reporters
outside the New Orleans courthouse.
The shootings occurred a few days after Hurricane Katrina
had submerged parts of New Orleans under roof-high floodwaters,
leaving thousands of people homeless and setting off chaos
throughout the city.
In the death of Brissette and shooting of four others,
officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and
Anthony Villavaso were found guilty of depriving citizens of
their rights and using firearms in doing so.
In addition, Faulcon, the only defendant who testified at
trial, was found guilty of violating civil rights and use of a
firearm in the killing of Madison.
The officers also were convicted of various charges
connected with the cover-up, including conspiracy to obstruct
justice and violate civil rights, and false prosecution.
Prosecutors painted a picture of out-of-control officers
firing indiscriminately on innocent bystanders in the incident
while defense lawyers maintained the police saw guns in the
hands of civilians and believed they were in danger.
They said chaotic conditions in New Orleans after Katrina,
which killed more than 1,800 people, heightened police
officers' expectations that civilians in the streets had and
would use guns.
Faulcon testified he had been filled with "indescribable
fear" at the time of the shooting.
The fifth officer, retired homicide detective Arthur
"Archie" Kaufman, was convicted on 10 counts related to the
cover-up, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice,
fabricating witnesses, falsifying victim statements, misleading
federal investigators and falsifying evidence.
The jury deliberated more than two days.
A sixth officer who was charged in the cover-up will be
(Reporting by Kathy Finn; Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by
Jerry Norton and Bill Trott)
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