Four former police officers were sentenced to prison terms from 38 to 65 years for their role in the shooting deaths of two unarmed men in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. A fifth was sentenced to six years for helping to cover up the incident that one U.S. attorney called the the "most significant police misconduct prosecution since Rodney King,"
While many observers were pleased with decades-long prison terms, the sentences were not as harsh as prosecutors had asked for. The government itself came under fire from U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt who gave a two-hour speech while handing down his decision that criticized the government's handling of the case and federal sentencing guidelines that he says interfered in the process. In particular, Engelhardt complained about the extensive use of plea bargains given to five other officers who testified against their former colleagues in exchange for lighter sentences saying, "Using liars to convict liars is no way to pursue justice."
The group of officers were convicted of several different crimes in connection with the incident that took place on the Danizger Bridge, six days after Hurricane Katrina hit the city, when much of the town was still flooded and services had yet to be restored. The police attacked two groups of civilians attempting to cross the bridge between New Orleans and the town of Gentilly, shooting four members of one family (including Susan Bartholemw, picture above, who lost her arm), killing a 17-year-old friend of that family, then shooting and killing a 40-year-old mentally disabled man with a shotgun blast to the back.
The officers were accused of planting evidence and inventing witnesses to support their claim that they were fired upon first, but it was later determined that all the civilians were unarmed. The Justice Department convicted the men last fall under federal civil rights charges — but not murder — after an earlier prosecution attempt by the New Orleans district attorney's office fell apart due to misconduct.