Officer Michael Hunter told the court how he and his colleagues had fired at wounded and unarmed people

  • Police sergeant 'randomly fired at wounded and unarmed civilians with assault rifle'
  • Officer 'stamped on mentally disabled man as he lay on the ground dying'
  • Cops wanted to send the message: 'Don't mess with us' in the wake of 2005 hurricane
A police officer told how he saw two wounded women lying on the ground after he and colleagues had fired at unarmed civilians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Hunter, a government witness in the federal trial of five current or former officers, said he didn't perceive any threat and said he peered over a barrier and saw two wounded females on the ground, embracing each other and crying.

Hunter, who already has been sentenced to eight years in prison, is one of five former officers who have pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up.

He told the court how his colleague Sgt. Kenneth Brown randomly shot at wounded and unarmed people with an assault rifle and repeatedly kicked a mentally-disabled man as he lay on the ground dying from gun wounds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a court heard.

Sgt. Kenneth Bowen is alleged to have fired the powerful weapon at several people who had already been shot by police on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the 2005 hurricane struck.

Sergeant Bowen, former officer Robert Faulcon, Seargeant. Robert Gisevius and Officer Anthony Villavaso deny any wrongdoing in the shootings that killed 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who was severely mentally disabled.

Brissette is said to have died in a hail of gunfire when officers opened up without reason while Maddison was allegedly shot in the back with a shotgun minutes later.

He told the court: 'I thought it was kind of messed up that the females got shot.'

Hunter has pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up to make the shootings appear justified.

He claims Bowen, one of the officers on trial, was armed with an assault rifle when he fired 'indiscriminately' at several people lying wounded on the east side of the bridge, where 17-year-old James Brissette died.

He claimed Sgt. Bowen later stamped on the back of 40-year-old Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man, who had been shot in the back by a fellow officer on the west side of the bridge.

Hunter said Bowen apologized after he angrily confronted him for stomping on Madison.

The ongoing case has stunned New Orleans, a city with a history of police corruption. His testimony was the most detailed eyewitness account of the shootings in the trial so far.

Prosecutors say the officers fired on unarmed residents as they responded to a distress call that their colleagues were under fire.

According to Hunter, Sgt Bowen, later admitted to him that his actions were 'out of line.'

Hunter said he had replied saying: 'We're not animals like them. We don't do that.'


Aftermath: Lance Madison is arrested by Louisiana State Police and New Orleans Police Department SWAT teams Sept. 4, 2005, after the alleged shooting on the Danziger Bridge. His brother had just been shot dead
He admitted he didn't feel threatened when he shot at people fleeing on the bridge, but fired at them anyway without warning because he was angry and 'wanted to send a message.'

'What was it?' a federal prosecutor asked Hunter.

'Don't mess with us,' Hunter said.

Bowen's attorney, Frank DeSalvo, suggested during cross-examination that Hunter tailored his story to please prosecutors offering him a deal.

But Hunter responded saying: 'The only thing I agreed to do was tell the truth,'

Bowen and three others were indicted last year on charges stemming from the shootings.


Accused: Sgt. Kenneth Bowen is said to have shot at wounded an unarmed people with an assault rifle
Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, is charged in the alleged cover-up.

On Sept. 4, 2005, less than a week after Katrina's flooding plunged New Orleans into chaos, Hunter drove a group of officers to the bridge in a rental truck in response to another officer's radio call for help.

Hunter said he spotted several people on the bridge before he reached out the driver's side window and fired warning shots in the air

As Ronald Madison and his brother, Lance, ran up the bridge, another group of people scrambled for cover behind the concrete barrier. Hunter testified that he jumped out of the truck and fired his department-issued handgun at the Madisons but didn't hit them as they ran.

Hunter said he didn't view them as a threat but fired at them without identifying himself as a police officer or issuing a warning 'mostly because I wasn't thinking straight.'

Hunter said he believed the Madisons may have shot at police officers on the bridge.

Turning attention to the concrete barrier, Hunter said he yelled, 'Cease fire!' at Bowen and at least one other officer who was shooting. The gunfire momentarily stopped before Bowen allegedly leaned over and fired more shots.

'There was no threat,' Hunter said. 'I was shocked.'

Driving the truck to the top of the bridge, Hunter saw the Madisons and a third man running away.

He and two other officers hitched a ride with a Louisiana State Police trooper and chased them to the west side, where former officer Robert Faulcon allegedly shot Ronald Madison in the back with a shotgun.

Bowen walked up and asked, 'Is this one of them?' before he stomped on Madison several times, Hunter added.

'He was very angry,' Hunter recalled. 'He had a very malicious look in his eye.'

Hunter said he and other officers who fired guns later gathered at a makeshift police station to discuss the matter.

'It was pretty obvious that they were initiating a cover-up,' he said. 'They didn't separate us and ask us questions individually. Nothing was collected from the scene.'

Earlier in the trial lieutenant Michael Lohman told how his former colleagues conspired to plant a gun and lied to cover-up the shooting of unarmed civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

He told the jury that when he arrived at the scene of the shooting, none of the junior officers could explain why they opened fire.

He said he arrived at the bridge to find 'people lying on the pedestrian walkway with multiple gunshot wounds' but no evidence of any of them being armed.

But after finding the body of Mr Madison, he became increasingly concerned that he could see lot of wounded people but 'no guns'.

'They seemed to be unsure of what actually happened,' Lohman recalled. 'There was too much uncertainty, and things didn't add up.'

He said he told the officers to go 'collect themselves, calm down and then come back and tell me what happened.'

He indicated that he expected them to make up an untrue story according to WDSU New Orleans.

He said Officer Kenneth Bowen then came back and said, 'What about this? I kicked the guns off the bridge because the scene was still hot. I did not want anyone else to pick up the guns.'

Lohman said he put Sgt. Arthur Kaufman in charge of the investigation.

Lohman expressed concern that there were no guns on the scene. He said Kaufman told him he had a gun he could put on the scene. He then asked Kaufman whether the weapon was 'clean,' meaning it could not be traced, and Kaufman said it was.

Lohman then said he told Kaufman that 'if he was going to do it, to do it and not talk about it with anyone else. Just do it.'


'Cover up': Former New Orleans Police Lieutenant Michael Lohman said he conspired with officers to make it seem that they were justified in opening fire
'The guys who were involved in this were co-workers, and some of them were friends of mine. I didn't want anybody to get into trouble," Lohman said.

'I feel pretty horrible about all of it, but most particularly about the people who were killed and wounded.They were people who didn't deserve what they got.'

His evidence came a day after the court heard a woman describe how her arm was blown off as officers opened fire.

Susan Bartholemew told jurors she felt bullets piercing her body as she huddled with her husband and teenage daughter behind a concrete barrier.

She recalled that her daughter, lying on the ground next to her, tried to shield her body from the hail of gunfire.

I prayed. I just called to the Lord because I didn't know what else to do,' Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew said it wasn't until after the shooting stopped that she realized police officers had shot her, leaving her right arm hanging by just a strip of skin.

She said the officers approached them as they lay on the bridge, threatened to kill them and yelled at them to hold up their hands.

'Of course I couldn't because my arm was shot off,' she said. 'I raised the only hand I had.'

Opening arguments started Monday with prosecutors painting a picture of out of control police opening fire on unarmed civilians without following proper procedure.

Defense attorneys countered with a portrait of stressed, tired, overworked officers reacting to what they thought was an attack on fellow officers.

'They cut loose with assault rifles and shotguns and they did so without ever identifying themselves,' Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein said of the officers. 'The mistake they made was thinking anyone walking on the Danziger Bridge that day was a criminal.'

The officers are accused of plotting to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports to make the shootings appear justified. Five other former officers already have pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up.


A .223 caliber shell casing lies alongside the road on Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans, Louisiana November 10, 2005.


Crime scene: A caution tape floats in the wind over a walkway running alongside the Danziger Bridge
They are cooperating with the government and are expected to testify during the trial, which could last up to eight weeks.

Defense attorneys said their clients had honored their oaths to protect and serve, quickly beginning rescue missions even though they too suffered from the hurricane's destruction.

They saw death and suffering, worked in horrifying conditions and heard gunshots so frequently at night they had to stop rescue missions when the sun went down.

Holmes survived, but Brissette died on the east side of the bridge. On the west side, Faulcon allegedly shot Madison in the back with a shotgun as he and his brother, Lance Madison, were fleeing from the gunfire. Ronald Madison was lying on the ground when Bowen walked over and asked a fellow officer, 'Is that one of them?" before he repeatedly stomped on the dying man, Bernstein said.

'This was a tragedy for everyone involved, police officers and victims," said attorney Lindsay Larson, who represents Faulcon. 'It was a horrible, terrible mistake, but it was not a federal crime.'