1 of 7 Police Officers Charged With Post-Katrina Bridge Deaths Had Previous Murder Charge

One of the seven policemen charged in a deadly gunfight on a bridge during the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina had previously been charged with murder in the 2001 death of a suspect, but the charges were dismissed.

Fraternal Order of Police lawyer Donovan Livaccari said Friday that Sgt. Kenneth Bowen had "acted within his rights to protect himself" in that case. Records show that the city agreed to pay the suspect's mother $12,500 to settle a lawsuit.

Bowen, five colleagues and another officer who has since left the force were indicted Thursday in the Sept. 4, 2005, shooting deaths of two men and wounding of four other people on the bridge.

A judge on Friday ordered the seven to surrender by Tuesday.

The shootings on the Danziger Bridge, just days after Katrina flooded New Orleans, became a symbol of the city's loss of control, and the facts of what happened remain murky. Police say that the officers were responding a report of other officers down, and that they thought one of the victims, Ronald Madison, had been reaching for a gun.

Madison, a mentally retarded man, was shot seven times — five times in the back, according to the coroner.

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"We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs," District Attorney Eddie Jordan said Thursday in announcing the indictment.

Police Superintendent Warren Riley called Jordan's comment "highly prejudicial and highly undignified," and defense lawyers said the officers are innocent of the murder or attempted murder charges against them.

As with many events in the days after Katrina struck, reports of what happened at the bridge six days after the storm varied widely.

Police reported that some Army Corps of Engineers workers had been fired on and that when the officers arrived, four people began firing at them. The officers returned fire, killing Madison, 40, and James Brissette, 19.

Madison's brother, who was also on the bridge, insists Madison wasn't armed. He said the two on their way to another brother's dental office when a group of teens ran up behind them and began shooting. As the brothers fled, Lance Madison said, seven men jumped out of a rental truck and also began firing at them.

Bowen and Sgt. Robert Gisevius were charged with first-degree murder in the bridge shootings, as were officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon. Officers Robert Barrios, Mike Hunter and Ignatius Hills were charged with attempted murder.

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Attorney Frank DeSalvo, who represented Bowen in the 2001 shooting and is doing so again, claimed his client has twice fallen victim to overzealous prosecutors.

State District Judge Raymond Bigelow said there would be no bond for the four accused of first-degree murder, which carries a possible death sentence. For the other officers, the bond will be $100,000 per count, Bigelow said.

A spokesman for Mayor Ray Nagin declined comment.

The officers' indictments further scars the reputation of the city's police department. More than 200 officers on the 1,500-member force were disciplined after the hurricane for various offenses, including failure to show up for work, and some were accused of joining in the looting.