NEW ORLEANS -- Eyewitness News has learned of another fatal shooting years before the one atop the Danziger Bridge, and some now say should have been a sign of things to come.
The shooting involves one of the Danziger 7 officers, and some believe it showcases the NOPD's failure to deal with at-risk cops.
One chaotic day atop the Danziger Bridge left two people dead, four others wounded, and has now thrust several New Orleans police officers into the center of a cover up. It is the cops themselves admitting they had something to hide in the days, weeks and even years after that deadly day.
“I've had officers talk to me about how bad it is for the department," said Capt. Henry Dean, president of the New Orleans chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. "My response to them is stand by, grab a hold of your waist -- it's going to get worse."
Former NOPD officer Michael Hunter, once hailed by crowds of supporters for being among the Danziger 7, is now pleading guilty for his role in the alleged wrongful death shootings. He is even implicating fellow officers, saying Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, one of the other members of the Danziger 7, "suddenly leaned over the concrete barrier, held out his assault rifle and in a sweeping motion fired repeatedly at the civilians lying wounded on the ground."
"Most police departments in the United States try to rule out, through risk management, the officers like Bowen," said criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf. "He should never have been there.”
Eight years ago Bowen faced second-degree murder charges for shooting and killing 28-year-old Sylvester Scott during a police chase. The NOPD said the man pulled a gun on Bowen first.
"There are witnesses that actually heard the police yelling, 'drop the gun,'" said then-Superintendent Duane Johnson back in December 2001.
Scott's family, however, maintained he was killed for no reason.
"I just want to know ... why did they shoot my child?" said Sylvester's very emotional mother in the days following the shooting.
But the case never went to trial. During an initial hearing, a criminal court judge said he found no probable cause. Soon after, the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, then led by Harry Connick, dropped the charges.
According to court documents obtained by Eyewitness News, the family then filed a civil lawsuit against Bowen and the city of New Orleans. Six years ago, the city settled, agreeing to pay the victim's family $12,500. Just over a year later, Bowen became one of the Danziger 7.
"Nobody trained this guy or nobody insisted that he develop tactics that were designed to avoid deadly force and not use it," said Scharf.
Criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf specializes in the study of deadly force by police. He said the NOPD failed to implement the kind of risk management system that could have flagged Bowen years earlier.
"These systems are not cheap," said Scharf. "But shootings are far much more expensive.
And for now it's the credibility of the New Orleans police department that appears to be paying the price.
Legal experts say in light of the damning firsthand account from former NOPD Officer Michael Hunter, other members of the Danziger 7, if convicted, could face the death penalty.
Hunter, however, based on his recent guilty plea agreement and current cooperation with the federal government, could face anywhere between two to four years, estimates Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino.
The only other two NOPD officers charged in the case, Michael Lowman and Jeffrey Lehrman, would likely face similar prison time, according to Ciolino.