NEW ORLEANS — Seven policemen charged in a deadly bridge shooting in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina turned themselves in Tuesday at the city jail, where more than 200 emotional supporters met them in a show of solidarity.
Each of the indicted men faces at least one charge of murder or attempted murder in the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the hurricane hit New Orleans. Two people died, and four people were wounded.
Defense attorneys say the seven officers are innocent of the charges.
As the men arrived at the jail, supporters lined the street, stepping forward to embrace the seven men and shake their hands. One sign in the crowd read “Support the Danziger 7.” Another read “Thanks for protecting our city.”
One protester shouted “Police killings must stop” and “Racism must go” but was shouted down by the crowd yelling: “Heroes, Heroes.”
'A serious injustice,' police official says
“These men stayed here to protect our city and protect us, and this is the thanks that is given to them,” said Ryan Maher, 34, of New Orleans, who described himself as a civilian with friends in the police department.
“It’s a serious injustice,” said Sgt. Henry Kuhn of the Harahan Police Department, one of several uniformed officers from the suburbs who joined the crowd.
Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius, officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon were charged with first-degree murder. Officers Robert Barrios and Mike Hunter were charged with attempted first-degree murder, and Ignatius Hills was charged with attempted second-degree murder.
A judge said there would be no bail for the four accused of first-degree murder. Bail will be $100,000 per count for the other three officers.
Hunter posted bail Tuesday; a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police said the others couldn’t in part because banks were closed for the national day of mourning for President Gerald Ford.
The officers are scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
Defense lawyers said they were assured that the men would be kept separate from the general population of the jail.
Hills’ brother Darren Hills was among those outside the jail Tuesday morning.
“It took everybody by surprise. Totally blindsided by the decision,” he said of the charges.
A first-degree murder conviction carries a possible death sentence. A spokesman for District Attorney Eddie Jordan said Monday that prosecutors haven’t decided whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
Reverend: Racism a factor
The facts of what happened on the bridge, which crosses the Industrial Canal between the Gentilly neighborhood and eastern New Orleans, remain murky.
Police say the officers were responding to a report of other officers down, and that they thought one of the men, Ronald Madison, was reaching for a gun. Madison, a 40-year-old mentally retarded man, and James Brissette, 19, were killed on the bridge. The coroner said Madison was shot seven times, with five wounds in the back.
Madison’s brother Lance, who was also on the bridge and was cleared of attempted murder charges, denies he or his brother was armed. He said they were running from a group of teens who had opened fire on the bridge when seven men jumped out of a rental truck and also shot at them without warning.
The Rev. Raymond Brown, of the New Orleans chapter of the National Action Network, said racism was a factor in the shootings, even though four of the officers, like the two victims, are black.
“We see the black officers as just following their master,” Brown said.
Six of the officers were suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case. The seventh, Faulcon, has left the department and is now a truck driver in Houston, said his lawyer, Franz Zibilich.
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