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New Orleans officers begin indictment fight

Attorneys for the seven try to get the charges thrown out in a deadly post-Katrina shooting on the Danziger Bridge.

January 04, 2007|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Lawyers representing seven New Orleans police officers charged in a deadly shooting on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina filed motions Wednesday aimed at overturning the indictments or at least getting them out of jail.

"The evidence against the defendants is paltry at best," said Franz Zibilich, a lawyer for former officer Robert Faulcon, who was indicted on first-degree murder charges and was denied bail.

The action came the day after the officers surrendered amid cheers and hugs from supporters and heckling from protesters.

The officers were suspended Friday. Zibilich said there was no reason to consider them a flight risk.

"They were not convicted of a crime before," Zibilich said. "They are law-abiding citizens."

A grand jury indicted the seven men Dec. 28 in the fatal shootings of James Brissette, 19, and Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old disabled man, and the wounding of four other people on Sept. 4, 2005.

The police were responding to what they initially believed to be two officers down during an attack on the city's Danziger Bridge, which links the neighborhoods of Gentilly and New Orleans East.

The officers have said that when they opened fire, they thought at least one of the people on the bridge was reaching for a gun.

Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius and officer Anthony Villavaso, were charged along with Faulcon with first-degree murder and attempted murder and were denied bail.

Officers Robert Barrios, Michael Hunter and Ignatius Hills were charged with attempted murder. Their bail was set at $100,000 per count.

Hunter reportedly posted bail Tuesday, and Hills did the same Wednesday.

Dalton Savwoir Jr., a spokesman for Orleans Parish Dist. Atty. Eddie Jordan, said Jordan had not decided whether to seek the death penalty against the officers charged with first-degree murder.

Savwoir said Jordan planned to respond today to the bail motions.

In announcing the indictments last week, Jordan said that police officers could not be allowed to "shoot and kill our citizens without justification, like rabid dogs. The rules governing the use of lethal force are not suspended during a state of emergency."

The comments sparked criticism from New Orleans Police Supt. Warren Riley, who called the remarks "highly prejudicial and highly undignified."

The officers have all been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case.

Police spokeswoman Bambi Hall said that according to legal procedure, the department's Public Integrity Bureau could not launch an official administrative investigation into the case until the criminal proceedings had been completed.

Representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Assn. of New Orleans have called the indictments a "political witch hunt."

Critics of Jordan have accused him of trying to capitalize on anti-law-enforcement sentiments before he runs for reelection next year.

"These were guys who stayed through the storm, toughed it out to protect the city," attorney Zibilich said.

"And this is their thanks? I think the whole prosecution is senseless and mind-boggling."

The people who were injured in the shootings say they were crossing the bridge in search of food when a group of men opened fire on them, forcing them to flee.

A coroner's report found that Madison had been shot several times in the back.

His brother Lance Madison, who was wounded, was arrested and charged with numerous offenses, including attempted murder of police officers, but was not indicted.

"I believe there are valid and truthful allegations against those officers," said Edwin Shorty, an attorney representing four members of a family seeking millions in damages from New Orleans and its Police Department in one of at least three civil rights suits. Susan Bartholomew lost her right arm because of the shooting. Her husband, Leonard, was shot in the head, and daughter Lesha was wounded in the stomach and lower legs, among other injuries, Shorty said.

Susan Bartholomew, who is now living out of state, has lost her "sense of security," which will take years to heal, the attorney said.

But with the indictment, "the process has begun," Shorty said. "She can see some end to this nightmare."

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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