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.
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