Defense begins calling witnesses with psychologist in Danziger trial

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 22, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 22 at 5:20 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- The defense is now calling witnesses in the Danziger police shooting case.

On Friday an expert in police psychology used science to explain the officers state of mind at the time of the shooting.

So far we have not heard from any of the five former or current New Orleans police officers on trial, but the defense is starting to build its theory of the case for the jury.

The defense is trying to give the jury a plausible explanation as to why seasoned and Katrina battle tested police officers would suddenly open fire on unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge.

On Friday, Dr. Harvey Goldstein, an expert in police psychology, testified about the so-called fight-or-flight syndrome. He told the jury when an officer faces a killing or shooting situation, his or her perception or memory may be distorted.

Goldstein said the distortion could include amnesia, magnified fear, tunnel vision and hallucinations. He told the jury, “Feelings and emotions dominate over reason. One could imagine that an unarmed man is armed.”

On cross-examination, prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein got Goldstein to admit that it would be unusual for all of the officers to have the same hallucination, and that stress can also bring out the most focus you can have.

Goldstein said “this is about explaining human behavior, not making an excuse for it.”

“His testimony this morning and again this afternoon in no way excuses the alleged behavior of the defendants, but perhaps it explains why they took certain actions they may have taken, why they reacted to certain traumatic events,” said Donald “Chick” Foret, Eyewitness News legal analyst and former prosecutor.

Also on the stand Friday was former NOPD Cpt. Donald Curole. He headed up the department’s Public Integrity Bureau at the time of the Danziger shootings.

Curole told the jury that defendant Archie Kaufman did make a request for homicide detectives to come out to the bridge. But Curole said the homicide unit was assigned to the Superdome in the days after Katrina, and that saving lives was more important than sending officers to the bridge.

On cross-examination the former police commander admitted that Kaufman did not say six unarmed civilians were shot on the bridge.

“In Sgt. Kaufman’s defense, that he did in fact do what he was supposed to do,” Foret said. “He reached out to homicide, he asked for a crime lab, he asked for a homicide investigation to the bridge.” Eyewitness News spoke with one of the defense attorneys, who said they are still weighing the pros and cons of putting their clients on the witness stand.

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