Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- The police officer at the wheel of a truck used during the Danziger Bridge shooting gave a first-hand account Wednesday of what happened during the incident.
Former Officer Michael Hunter testified for the prosecution and described in detail his actions and those of his fellow officers in that shooting of unarmed civilians just days after Hurricane Katrina.
He also provided an inside look on the cover-up that followed. Hunter said he got into the driver’s seat of the budget rental truck with his personal AK-47 as he and other officers responded to a call that someone was shooting at officers at the Danziger Bridge.
Hunter said when they pulled up to the bridge, he fired warning shots and people began to run away. Then he started running to the west side of the bridge firing at several people.
“Why did you fire at people running away?” asked prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein.
“I wasn’t thinking straight, being stupid. I thought these people shot at cops -- that they had the audacity to shoot at us while there was chaos in the city. I wanted to send a message: ‘don’t shoot at us,’” Hunter said.
"The prosecutor in this case, Bernstein, reiterated over and over again of Michael Hunter, 'Did you ever see any weapons? Were any of these people threats to you?'" said Eyewitness News legal analyst and former prosecutor Donald "Chick" Foret.
Each time, Hunter replied no.
Hunter thought everything was over but then he said Sergeant Kenneth Bowen went over to the pedestrian walkway where the Bartholomew family had taken cover and opened fire.
“Sergeant Bowen leaned over the barrier and fired a number of rounds…he fired it indiscriminately at the people…I was shocked,” Hunter said.
As they approached a man in a white shirt Hunter said Officer Robert Faulcon shot Ronald Madison in the back.
Madison, a 40-year-old mentally challenged man, was one of two people killed that day on the bridge.
“The guy was trying to lift his head up, look around. He was wheezing. He sounded like he was having trouble breathing,” Hunter said of Madison’s last moments.
Hunter said Bowen then stomped on Madison’s back. He said Bowen was “very angry. He had a very malicious look in his eye.”
As to the alleged cover-up of the incident, Hunter said it began almost immediately with no evidence collected, officers singled out for firing their weapons, and Sergeant Arthur Kaufman taking no statements.
"Michael Hunter's testimony today I think is critical for prsoecution. He's probably been the best government witness as it is to delivery. His delivery to me seemed very credible and believable," Foret said.
Hunter pleaded guilty to two felonies in this case and was sentenced to eight years, but he said he’s hoping his testimony today will get him a reduced sentence.