Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Orleans Cops Report to Jail After Being Indicted For Post-Katrina Murders

Charged in post-Katrina slaying, seven NOPD officers report to jail

By Laura Maggi
and Brendan McCarthy
Staff writer

Surrounded by fellow law enforcement officers offering hugs, handshakes and shouts of support, seven New Orleans police officers walked into central lock-up Tuesday morning to be booked on murder and attempted murder charges stemming from their shooting six people a week after Hurricane Katrina.

Steady applause broke out as the officers, accompanied by their attorneys and union representatives, began the slow walk to turn themselves in. At the back of the crowd woman called out "thank you, guys," as those close to the group clasped hands with the indicted officers, who appeared visibly moved by the outpouring. One man had tears in his eyes.

Not everyone came to offer comfort: A handful of protesters, marching outside the ring of support, pronounced the officers guilty, calling them terrorists and thugs. And shouts from inside the jail could be heard on the street below — a handful of voices screaming out obscenities and warnings to the officers. "Now you are on the inside!" one man yelled.

The officer’s indictment by a state grand jury indictment last week has clearly galvanized members of New Orleans Police Department, as well as other local police agencies, with at least a couple hundred turning out on a cold January morning to line South White Street next to the House of Detention.

Police have decried the indictments, saying that the officers who killed two and seriously wounded four on Danziger Bridge six days after Katrina were doing their duty, responding to reports of sniper fire at rescue workers. Police have said that when they arrived at the bridge, on Chef Menteur Highway in eastern New Orleans, they were engaged in a gunfight.

The grand jury decided differently, clearly siding with a set of victims who have filed federal lawsuits against the police stemming from the shooting. Those victims have said they were unarmed and did not shoot at the police.

As the seven accused police officer got close to the booking department, several law enforcement personnel formed a tight-knit circle them, clasping their hands on the officers’ backs and shuffling them to the doors.

Once they had walked through the lock-up doorway, officers broke out into chants of "N-O-P-D" and "heroes," largely drowning out a small counter-protest of people with sings proclaiming that "police killings must stop."

"I’ve never seen such an outpouring of support in all the years I’ve been doing this. It was quite touching," said Franz Zibilich, the attorney for Robert Faulcon, who was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and four counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Faulcon and the other three officers accused of first-degree murder will be spending an indeterminate amount of time in Orleans Parish Prison, as Chief Judge Raymond Bigelow ruled last week that they are not eligible for bail. Attorneys said that they expect to file motions on Wednesday for bond hearings.

Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, and officer Anthony Villavaso were charged along with Faulcon with the first-degree murder of James Brissette, 19.

Faulcon, who left the force after Katrina, was also charged with the first-degree murder of Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man whose body was found with seven gunshot wounds to his back and upper arm. Madison was hit by seven pellets from one shotgun blast, according to attorneys for the officers.

Officers Michael Hunter and Ignatius Hills, who were indicted only on attempted murder charges and therefore eligible for bond, were expected to bail out Tuesday morning. Robert Barrios, who was indicted on four counts of attempted first-degree murder, will probably spend a few days in jail while he raises money for bail, said his attorney, John DiGiulio.

Bigelow set a bond of $100,000 for each count of attempted murder.

Special arrangements have been made for the indicted officers within Orleans Parish Prison, said a spokeswoman for the criminal sheriff’s office. They will not be locked up with the general population.

A handful of protesters marched alongside the officers, outside of the phalanx of supporters. They carried signs—one read "NOPD Terrorism Must Stop"—and chanted for end to police brutality.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and New Orleans chairman of the National Action Network, held a sign aloft and screamed with rage.

"They are guilty," he said, "a bunch of thugs."

Townsend Myers, an attorney representing Hunter, said his client spent the last few days with his family making preparations. He was expected to make bail Tuesday morning.

"He’s stressed out under the circumstances," Myers said.

Myers said Hunter, who is charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, was in jail Tuesday "because he was doing his job."

"If this is the thanks that officers get for staying behind, heeding the call of duty, then the nation is in trouble," Myers said.

Zibilich said Faulcon had never discharged his weapon during his four years on the NOPD, calling him a "decorated, perfect police officer." Faulcon, 43, is a married father of a young child.

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