NEW ORLEANS – Michael Hunter stood quietly as a judge sentenced the former New Orleans Police officer Wednesday to eight years in federal prison for his role in the coverup and deadly shooting of unarmed civilians after Hurricane Katrina.
The sentence by U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance was the maximum allowed and nine months more than the sentencing guidelines recommended.
Vance called the police shooting on the Danziger Bridge that killed two and wounded four civilians, "sickeningly brutal."
"It is hard to imagine a more profound breach of public trust than what happened here," Vance said.
Hunter admitted firing at the people on the bridge, although he knew they were unarmed and posed no threat, but said he did not hit anyone. But Vance pointed out that he did nothing to stop his fellow officers from firing, in fact watching "an officer shoot Ronald Madison in the back at close range."
Ronald Madison, 40, and mentally disabled, and James Brissette, 19, were killed and four wounded as they crossed the bridge in search of food five days after Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005. The officers claimed they opened fire only after being shot at.
Lance Madison, who accompanied his brother, Ronald, and was arrested for attempted murder, testified less than a month later that a group of teenagers started shooting at them before they met police.
Hunter, who pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors, is one of five former officers who have pleaded guilty in the shootings. Six other current or former officers also have been indicted on charges related to the shooting and coverup.
Before the sentence was read, Hunter told the victims' families and his wife that he was sorry.
"I apologize for not having the moral courage to do the right thing from the beginning," he said.
The Madison family, including Lance Madison, sat in the court's front row. Lorna Humphrey, Madison's sister, said the family appreciated Hunter's coming forward, acknowledging that the truth might not have come out otherwise.
But, she said, Hunter did nothing to comfort her brother as he lay dying, other than intervening when a sergeant began kicking Ronald, using "as much force as he could muster."
"The horror of that scene continues to haunt us to this day," Humphrey said.
Hunter is to report to the Bureau of Prisons on March 14. Prosecutors said they could ask for a sentence reduction if Hunter continues to cooperate and testifies against other officers.