A federal judge ordered a new trial for five former New Orleans Police Department officers convicted in connection to the shooting deaths of two men on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans.
The shootings gained national attention because they took place during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports the judge ordered a new trial because of the “grotesque” misconduct of federal prosecutors. The paper adds:
“In a 129-page order that strongly criticized prosecutors in former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt pointed to ‘unprecedented events and acts’ that ‘has taken the court on a legal odyssey unlike any other.’
“The order grants a new trial for former police officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso as well as Arthur Kaufman, who was convicted of orchestrating the cover-up after being assigned to investigate the shooting. All were tried and convicted in 2011 for their roles. They sought a new trial last year alleging prosecutorial misconduct, citing among other examples the revelations that prosecutors in Letten’s office had authored disparaging comments on NOLA.com about defendants in several criminal cases, including the Danziger case.”
The AP reports that the judge said granting a new trial was a “bitter pill to swallow.” The officers’ attorneys argued that prosecutors waged a “secret public relations campaign” by leaving online comments and leaking information to news organizations.
“The government’s actions, and initial lack of candor and credibility thereafter, is like scar tissue that will long evidence infidelity to the principles of ethics, professionalism, and basic fairness and common sense necessary to every criminal prosecution, wherever it should occur in this country,” Engelhardt wrote.
Here’s some background about the incident we put together when a federal jury handed down a guilty verdict:
“The short of it is that on Sept. 4, 2005 police were called to the Danziger Bridge, a concrete lift bridge that spans the Industrial Canal. The officers alledged they were being fired upon, so a back up group headed toward the bridge and ended up shooting and killing two and injuring others.
“The people turned out to be unarmed civilians, and today the officers were found to be guilty on counts ranging from fabrication of witnesses to lying to the FBI to obstruction of justice by planting a firearm.”