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Defendants in New Orleans police shooting allowed bail

The seven men charged can return to work. Six are still on the force.

January 06, 2007|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Six police officers and one former officer charged in a shooting on a city bridge after Hurricane Katrina were permitted to post bail Friday, and the six still on the force may return to limited duty.

The former officer, now a truck driver in Texas, may also return to work under the ruling of New Orleans Criminal District Court Judge Raymond Bigelow.

"This is exactly what we had hoped for," said Michael Glasser, president of the Police Assn. of New Orleans. "We are very pleased and excited by the judge's ruling, and we are pleased to have our officers back."

Former Officer Robert Faulcon, Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius and Officer Anthony Villavaso are charged with first-degree murder -- which carries a possible death sentence -- and attempted murder. They were originally denied bail.

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

The seven men pleaded not guilty Friday.

Defense lawyers said new bail amounts would vary based on the number of counts each man faces.

Bail on a first-degree murder charge is highly unusual in Louisiana, but Dalton Savwoir Jr., a spokesman for the Orleans Parish district attorney's office, said, "That's what both parties agreed to."

Law professor Dane S. Ciolino said, "You have no right to set bond in a first-degree murder case in Louisiana."

The fact that the judge did allow bail in this case "shows that he found the evidence against the officers to be somewhat questionable," said Ciolino, who teaches at Loyola University in New Orleans.

Prominent New Orleans defense attorney Robert Jenkins, who has tried first-degree murder cases, said Dist. Atty. Eddie Jordan should prosecute the case as negligent homicide.

"In a capital murder case, you have to show [that the defendants] had the criminal intent to commit a homicide," and in the officers' case that hasn't been possible, Jenkins said.

Five of the indicted officers will be required to wear monitoring devices and will be restricted to their homes, jobs, visits with their attorneys, or court appearances.

It was unclear Friday whether the officers would indeed go back on the job and, if so, what limited assignments they might do. They all received 120-day suspensions without pay after their indictments Dec. 28.

Police officials would not comment.

"All the defendants are ecstatic," said Franz Zibilich, a lawyer for Faulcon.

"Bond was set. The guys are getting out of jail. And we can prepare for the case in the ordinary course of things."

Lawyers for victims of the shootings expressed disappointment over Bigelow's ruling.

"My clients are very upset about it," said Mary Howell, who represents the Madison family. Ronald Madison died, shot several times in the back; his brother Lance was among four people seriously wounded. James Brissette, 19, also was killed.

"The prospect of these officers going back to work is really chilling," Howell said.

The shooting victims have maintained that they were crossing Danziger Bridge in search of food when a group of men they thought were criminals opened fire on them, causing them to flee in panic.

Lawyer Edwin Shorty, who is representing four members of an injured family seeking millions in damages in a civil rights suit, said he was "very surprised" by the judge's decision and believed the police officers had been "given deference that most are not given."

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