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September 30th, 2008
05:54 PM ET

What happened on the NOLA bridge?

Maureen Miller
AC360 Writer

Federal investigators want answers in New Orleans. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s office in the city have announced they’re investigating the fatal shootings of unarmed citizens by police at the Danziger Bridge just days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast

Their mission: to determine whether any federal criminal laws were broken.

Here’s what we know happened around 9 a.m. on Sunday, September 4th, 2005.

Two men, Ronald Madison, 40 and James Brissette, 19, were killed and four others were wounded as they crossed the Danziger Bridge over the Industrial Canal in eastern New Orleans.

Autopsy results show Madison, a mentally ill man who had no criminal record, was shot in the back several times. No gun was found on him or near him.

Just before shots rang out, police received a Signal 108 – the code for an officer or officers in danger and in need of assistance. Seven officers heard the call at their makeshift office in a banquet hall they’d taken over after Katrina flooded their usual work space.

According to their statements in a police report, they thought two of their fellow officers were “down” – either wounded or killed – near the bridge.

The seven officers rushed to the scene. When they arrived they say at least four people were shooting at them. They say they only started shooting after they were fired upon.

But survivors of the shooting who were on the bridge say they were unarmed and ambushed by the seven officers. The survivors say they were simply walking across the bridge to a grocery store to get food.

The decision for a federal investigation comes two weeks after a Louisiana judge dismissed charges against the seven cops accused of murder and/or attempted murder in the case. Criminal District Judge Raymond Bigelow agreed with defense arguments that prosecutors violated state law by divulging secret grand jury testimony to a police officer who was a witness in the case.

“The state improperly used the testimony of these officers to indict them as well as others,” said Bigelow. The DA’s office is still considering whether to appeal the judge’s decision.

Six of the cops have returned to regular duty, after temporarily being assigned desk duty. And, one officer left the force after Katrina and now works as a truck driver.

And, as for that signal 108 call – there were never two officers down at the scene.

An investigation revealed that some of the gunfire was by residents trapped by Katrina floodwaters trying to get the attention of rescuers.


Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Maureen Miller
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. AmunRe

    It all boils down to racism. Not once did they mentioned these men were African Americans (how ironic that sounds) and were killed by European Americans. The South needs to clean up it's act and start putting police officers on trial and more than least give them the death penalty.... The cops are so quick to take justice in their own hands, well let the people do the same to them...

    October 2, 2008 at 10:48 am |
  2. Ned Watson

    This is clearly about thugs that were out to do no good and it backfired on them. It is always Law Enforcement that takes the heat. Everyone always wants to play the race card. We were not there so it is simply ridiculous to accuse these Police Officers of any wrong doing. Let's praise them instead for the wonderful job that they do each and every day. The bottom line is, do the right thing and you will never have a problem.

    October 2, 2008 at 8:59 am |
  3. Edward Wilkins

    and this isnt about politics...its about what is right and what is wrong.

    You cant tell me there is anything right about shooting a mentally ill man in the back...six times...

    Hang 'em.

    October 1, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  4. Edward Wilkins

    Battlefield rules?

    Since when does a frickin storm constitute marshal law? That has to be the most far fetched defending of these pigs that I have seen!

    These officers SHOT and killed two unarmed men. Wounded others.

    They have no viable excuse. And some rain and flooding does not mean the police can shoot whomever they wish.

    Because if thats the case, next time it drizzles I am shooting some cops.

    October 1, 2008 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Lynn, CT

    These people were shot in the back! I don't care what was going on at the time. If someone is shot in the back, it means they are walking/running away! Therefore, their lives were not being threatened. This is 2008, why is everyone still so racist?

    October 1, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  6. Otis Spriggens

    I'd Like to thank CNN for covering this Story! The Danzinger Bridge Massacre was just that! Shooting Unarmed people in the Back is Murder! I'm a young Black Man and i believe in Capital Punishment! Justice should be Served! People worry about or good old tax dollars more than a Life! Which shows that money rules over the existance of a human being!

    October 1, 2008 at 12:29 pm |
  7. TS

    Wow, obviously Tammy hasn't heard that NOLA police are the most corrupt, dishonest "law" enforcement system in the US and possibly further. Guess I know who needs the "reality check".

    October 1, 2008 at 10:43 am |
  8. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    The state cleared the officers, so apparently there was a truer side to this story that doesn't fit into your bleeding heart liberal agenda. But because every person is guaranteed his day in appeals until there are no more, we now must waste federal taxpayer dollars so these people's relatives can try and find someone to believe their case, tell them what they want to hear that will win them a lawsuit, and fund the next fifty generations with our money. That's how it works in New Orleans for people like this. And you CNN were suckers enough to feel sorry for them and tell their story. My family and friends worked law enforcement after Katrina in New Orleans. You have no idea what they put up with, endured, and had to do to protect themselves and the decent, honest citizens of New Orleans from these "poor innocents who did nothing and were shot anyway". You weren't dealing with them jonesing for drugs at any cost and unmedicated with mental illness and acting out as a result (you can bet that mentally ill guy hadn't taken his meds or been in therapy for months even when those cops came upon him and was probably self-medicating on booze, crack, or worse and detoxing while on the bridge). You weren't the one dealing with the complete disregard for any authority at all. However, these cops were, put their lives on the line, and now get this crappy thanks as a result. Good to know you're on the side of all New Orleanians. Hopefully the justice system will see this for the sham that it is and clear these officers the way Dr, Pou and the nurses she worked with were cleared. The only thing disturbing about this case is that these officers can't move on with their lives yet because doing their jobs of protecting and serving obviously isn't seen by the courts and CNN as noble anymore but instead a crime. You people really do need a reality check.

    September 30, 2008 at 10:40 pm |
  9. Bret Peters

    A very dark moment in American history. Didn't they have tazers? This story should have been covered more, educating America, and helping to prevent this in the future. In-humane to say the least. We are better than that, and how do you think the rest of the world views us? Or better yet, how do we view ourselves? God help us all. Also thank you very much 360 crew for bringing this back in the light. much respect.

    September 30, 2008 at 9:54 pm |
  10. Michelle

    what's missing in this article is that the bridge separated a predominately black community on one side and a largely white one on the other. the local sheriff had proclaimed that they would not tolerate folks from N.O. coming over to escape the hurricane especially in light of what was being said about the Superdome. The real question is why did DOJ take so long to file charges?

    September 30, 2008 at 9:23 pm |
  11. Brenda Harris

    We shall overcome some day

    September 30, 2008 at 9:11 pm |
  12. CKAYWALKER

    It's so disturbing.

    September 30, 2008 at 9:04 pm |
  13. Rob W

    Sounds like a mistake to me, especially with the hurricane raging. Battlefield rules. Sad but no charges should be filed.

    September 30, 2008 at 7:20 pm |
  14. melinda

    Well if no gun found and the two police officers that made the call isn't on the scene then why did the men die? The police officers had to murder them and i don't think thats fair. There should be more investigations concerning this murder.They murdered these two men and got away with it because of Katrina.

    September 30, 2008 at 7:09 pm |
  15. EBONI1984

    There was no gun found on or near them.. Looks like murder to me!!

    September 30, 2008 at 6:54 pm |
  16. Beth

    I don't know what to think anymore. Whats happening to all of us?

    September 30, 2008 at 6:36 pm |

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