NEW ORLEANS - A plea deal that sharply reduced the sentences of four former NOPD officers who were involved in a shooting at the Danziger Bridge that left two people dead and four others wounded just days after Hurricane Katrina was finalized in court Wednesday.
It also sliced in half the original sentence for another officer involved in the cover-up.
The plea deal dramatically reduced the sentences, in some cases, shaving decades in prison time for Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius, Arthur Kaufman and Anthony Villavaso. U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt accepted the plea deals in federal court Wednesday.
Under the plea agreement, Gisevius agreed to 10 years, Faulcon to 12 years, Bowen to 10 years, Villavaso to 7 years -- each with credit for six years of time served. Kaufman agreed to 3 years with time served.
All of Danziger defendants had to admit to a "willful disregard" of the Constitutional rights of the six shooting victims, two of whom died.
"While this is certainly an imperfect resolution, today's proceeding ensures that these defendants will be held accountable for their actions," said U.S. Attorney Ken Polite. "When officers ignore the oath of office and violate the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect, they must be held accountable."
The guilty plea stemmed from a shooting at the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005 that left Ronald Madison, 40, and James Brisette, 17, dead and four others injured, but the convictions were later tossed after online comments about the case on Nola.com stories about the trial were determined to come from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
On Aug. 2011, four officers – Bowen, Faulcon, Gisevius and Villavaso – were convicted for their roles in the shootings, and Kaufman was convicted for his role in the cover-up of the shooting.
Initially, Bowen received a 40-year sentence, Faulcon got a 65-year sentence, Gisevius was handed down a 40-year sentence, Kaufman a 6-year sentence and Villavaso a 38-year sentence. Faulcon received the stiffest sentence for shooting Madison in the back with a shotgun.
Somber members of the Brisette and Madison families stood by as Polite talked about the deal.
"This has been a terrible ordeal for our family, friends and the community," said Lance Madison, who was with his brother the day he was shot. "We are glad the officers involved have finally admitted their guilt. I pray that no other family will ever have to go through what we have gone through."
"It is unfortunate that New Orleans has had to relive this dark chapter in our city’s history, and I hope that the decision today will allow us to finally turn the page and begin to heal," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a statement after the plea deal was announced.
In 2013, the officers had the convictions overturned and ordered a new trial by Engelhardt after the online commenting scandal tainted the prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Englehardt went over his “concerns” about the online comments which caused his throw out the convictions, including the Department of Justice for not disclosing information.
A majority of the convictions of the four officers were for charges of deprivation of civil rights (aiding and abetting), use of a weapon in a crime of violence, deprivation of rights (bodily injury), conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to violate civil rights through false prosecution and hindering communication to federal law enforcement.
Kaufman was convicted on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to violate civil rights through false prosecution, falsification of evidence to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice (concerning a firearm), false statement (concerning a firearm), falsification of victim statements, false statements regarding victims, fabrication of witnesses and false statements regarding fabricated witnesses.
*While WWL-TV reported during the 5 p.m. newscast that Anthony Villavaso "shot and hit" James Brissette, statements by Judge Englehardt in 2012 indicate that none of the officers who plead guilty Wednesday to shooting Brissette actually hit him.
Sept. 4, 2005: Police shootings on Danziger Bridge; two are killed, four wounded.
August 2006: Families of the shooting victims file federal civil lawsuits against the New Orleans Police Dept.
Dec. 28, 2006: Orleans Parish grand jury indicts seven NOPD officers on charges of murder and attempted murder.
Aug. 13, 2008: Judge Raymond Bigelow tosses out the state's case against the 'Dangizer Seven.' Judge says the case was tainted by a prosecutor who improperly used officers' grand jury testimony to secure indictments.
Sept. 30, 2008: U.S. Attorney Jim Letten says federal authorities will examine the case for possible civil rights violations.
July 13, 2010: Six current and former NOPD officers are indicted by a federal grand jury.
Jan. 19, 2011: Retired Sgt. Gerard Dugue granted a severance from the other defendants
June 27, 2011: Trial begins for remaining five Danziger defendants.
August 5, 2011: A jury finds Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, Anthony Villavaso, and Arthur Kaufman guilty of civil rights and obstruction charges.
April 4, 2011: A federal judge sentences 5 former NOPD officers to prison terms ranging from 6 to 65 years.
Sept. 17, 2013: A federal judge grants new trial for Danziger defendants citing "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct."
April 20, 2016: Danziger defendants agree to a plea deal. New sentences range from 3 to 12 years.