In a development that will bring a turbulent saga of nearly 11 years to a close, five former New Orleans police officers are expected to enter a federal courtroom Wednesday morning and plead guilty to reduced charges in the unjust shootings of civilians on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina and a brazen coverup meant to justify the gunfire.
Sources with knowledge of the deal said the five cops — former Sgts. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius and former Officers Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso — will enter their pleas before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, who set aside their convictions three years ago amid a scandal over online commetning by federal prosecutors.
It is unclear whether the men will be sentenced Wednesday, but the resolution of the charges is expected to result in far shorter prison terms than those Engelhardt meted out after the 2011 trial.
Four of the five officers — all save Kaufman — were directly involved in the shootings on the bridge six days after Katrina; two unarmed people were killed and four others were badly wounded. Those four officers all received sentences of at least 38 years before their convictions were tossed, and they have all been imprisoned without bail for nearly six years.
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Kaufman, the detective accused of masterminding the coverup, did not participate in the shootings, which occurred after a group of officers heard a radio report that someone was firing on another officer. Kaufman has been out on bail throughout the case’s long life.
The deal involving the five former officers still leaves one ex-cop in limbo: Gerard Dugue, who was accused of abetting the coverup and was tried separately from the other officers in 2012. Engelhardt declared a mistrial in that case and it has not been set for retrial, but the charges remain pending.
The end of the Danziger case may also mark the final bit of fallout from the online-commenting scandal that rocked the U.S. Attorney’s Office starting in March 2012. It began when landfill owner Fred Heebe, the target of a federal probe, revealed in a civil lawsuit that federal prosecutor Sal Perricone, a top lieutenant of then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, had been posting critical comments under false names about Heebe and other individuals in the office’s crosshairs.
The scandal metastasized, eventually taking down Jan Mann — Letten’s second-in-command, who was also unmasked as an online commenter — and then Letten himself. And it spread to the Danziger case, in part because one of Heebe’s lawyers, Billy Gibbens, also represented one of the officers charged in the bridge shootings.
Visit the New Orleans Advocate's website for more on this story.