By Jordan Flaherty
On Wednesday, five officers were sentenced for firing on unarmed civilians on Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, and conspiring to cover-up their crime. The sentences bring some degree of closure to a case that has transformed the official narrative of what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But Judge Engelhardt, who presided over the trial, brought more controversy in a lengthy speech that lambasted the Justice Department’s handling of the case.
Nearly seven years ago, officers killed 17-year-old James Brisette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison and wounded four others in a hail of gunfire on Danziger Bridge. Minutes later, they arrested two of the victims and charged them with firing at officers.
It almost worked. For years, as supervising officers conspired to plant evidence, invent witnesses, and rewrite the reports of what happened that day on the bridge, the truth was hidden. It was not until early 2009, when the Justice Department took an active role in the case, that new evidence was uncovered, witnesses were interviewed, and the conspiracy came apart. Five officers agreed to testify for the state in exchange for the opportunity to plead to lesser charges. Last summer, a jury found the five remaining officers guilty on all 25 counts (on two counts, the jury found the men guilty but with partial disagreements on the nature of the crime). [Read full article]