Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Orleans Judge Drops Charges on Katrina Killer Cops

Another New Orleans outrage

Judge drops charges on Katrina killer cops

By LeiLani Dowell
Published Aug 20, 2008 11:26 PM

Just two weeks before the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—and the racist, genocidal neglect of survivors by local and federal officials and agencies in the storm’s aftermath—a New Orleans judge has dismissed charges against six police officers in the killing of two unarmed survivors just days after the storm.

On the morning of Sept. 4, 2005, survivors of Katrina were attempting to cross the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans on foot to reach a grocery store. According to witnesses, they were ambushed by police officers who jumped out of the back of a rental truck and began shooting. Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old, mentally disabled man, was killed by seven shots in his back and shoulder; 19-year-old James Brisette was also killed.

In addition, Susan Bartholomew’s arm was partially blown off and her spouse, daughter and nephew were all shot multiple times. All six officers were put on desk duty but continue to work for the New Orleans Police Department.

To add further insult, Madison’s brother Lance—a 25-year employee of FedEx with no criminal record—was arrested, jailed and accused of shooting at the officers. The charges were later dropped.

Criminal District Judge Raymond Bigelow threw out the charges against the officers on two technicalities—one, that they were made to testify in front of the same grand jury that indicted them; and two, that a police lieutenant who was expected to testify alleged he had been shown one of the officers’ grand jury testimonies. Both actions are impermissible by Louisiana state law.

However, rather than find the district attorney’s office in contempt of court, the judge chose to further punish the family members of the slain by completely dismissing the charges against the police officers.

The entire case has been fraught with bias and corruption. Physical evidence was not gathered for the investigation for seven weeks; other evidence, such as the rental truck the police used, was discarded. Most of the eyewitnesses interviewed by homicide detectives were police officers, and the investigative report based some of its conclusions on testimony given by a man pretending to be a sheriff’s deputy.

New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry describes a mountain of conflicts of interest in the trial: “Judge Bigelow employs a woman married to the spokesman of the Fraternal Order of Police, a major backer of the accused officers. Another employee’s father is defending one of the accused officers in court. The judge’s law clerk is a former partner of a lawyer representing an accused officer.” (Aug. 17)

A protest was held against the ruling, organized by Safe Streets, Strong Communities. While the court clerk told reporters that the state plans to appeal (CNN, Aug. 13), it will take a continued struggle by the people of New Orleans and their allies to bring justice.
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