Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly
Attorneys for a former New Orleans police sergeant who is awaiting a new trial on charges stemming from deadly shootings that took place on an eastern New Orleans bridge less than a week after Hurricane Katrina have asked a federal judge to move him to a local jail, The Associated Press reported last week.
Kenneth Bowen and three other former NOPD officers have been in custody since their indictment in 2010.
The Danziger Bridge shootings took place on Sept. 4, 2005 and resulted in the deaths of two unarmed civilians and the wounding of four others. The two civilians killed were 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man. Former NOPD Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, former Sgt. Robert Gisevius, former Officer Robert Faulcon and former Officer Anthony Villavaso were tried and convicted of federal civil rights charges stemming from the shootings and an attempt to cover up the deadly incident.
A fifth former NOPD officer, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, was convicted of charges that he orchestrated the cover-up. Kaufman, who wasn’t charged in the shootings themselves, was serving a six-year prison sentence when Engelhardt agreed in October 2014 to free him on bond pending a new trial.
Five other officers—Michael Lohman, Jeffery Lehrmann, Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios and Ignatis Hill—pleaded guilty on a variety of federal charges and agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice as it continued its probe of the 2005 incident.
Bowen was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his part in the Danziger Bridge shootings.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered new trials for them in September 2013, citing prosecutorial misconduct, but did not free them. In a filing Monday, Bowen’s attorneys claim his confinement in a maximum security prison—where the most violent inmates are housed — puts him in danger because of his history as a police officer.
“Bowen is scheduled to move to the Florence SHU (Special Housing Unit) on or about Thursday, March 20,” attorney Robin Schulberg wrote in court papers. “As a result, his living conditions will be restricted in the same manner as inmates on disciplinary segregation: his telephone calls to his family will be confined to one 15-minute call a month, he will not have access to email, and he will have little, if any, access to the law library.”
Schulberg told the judge in papers filed last week that Bowen will also have limited access to his attorney through U.S. mail.
“National Action Now continues to support the families impacted by the Danziger and Glover cases and will continue to fight for justice alongside them,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans-based community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “Of course, we oppose Kenneth Bowen having the freedom to move closer to the city… We also are disappointed by the judge’s decision to grant him and all of the other officers a new trial. There is overwhelming evidence showing him violating these victims’ civil rights. The civil rights community is united in the belief and conviction that Kenneth Bowen should remain in jail and should not be transferred closer to New Orleans.
“Why is the justice system bending over backwards to accommodate these convicted police officers but doing so little to help these families to get justice?” Brown continued. “The Justice Dept. is showing favoritism toward these convicted cops. They’re being released from jail quicker than civilians ever have been. It usually takes an individual many years to get a conviction overturned, but these cops have been in jail only two or three years and are getting their convictions overturned and getting out of jail on bond. …Why is the judge allowing these murderers to go free? The appeals process is working in their favor despite all of the evidence that shows that these officers are guilty.… The Jim Letten (online posting) scandal has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that these cops shot and murdered innocent human beings.”
Brown encouraged concerned residents to stand up and be heard on the issue in New Orleans.
“National Action Now is calling for people to organize and rally against it,” he said. “If we sit back and don’t say anything, we’re giving them a green light to allow the cops to keep murdering innocent people and violating our constitutional rights.”
“It is very discouraging to watch the unraveling of a justice system that claims to be the protector of the people it claims to serve,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “After more than 140 years of fighting the NOPD, Blacks have remained the victims while the white establishment continues to follow laws they write as they go along their daily duties exhibiting ‘might is right’ and ‘do as I say not as I do’ philosophy. The politics of America is said to be found in the U.S. Constitution, yet the protections granted under the constitution are always being questioned when it comes to Blacks living in America.”
Johnson said that black residents have learned the hard way that they cannot depend on the Feds to right the wrongs that have devastated the black community in New Orleans as far back as anyone can remember.
“Blacks in New Orleans have never received any considerations from the federal government who allowed Len Davis to murder Kim Groves while the Feds listened in on conversations describing the instruction to kill Kim Groves,” W.C. Johnson said, “After three years of trying to get the federal government to impart their constitutional protections on the black people of New Orleans, Blacks in New Orleans find themselves faced with bewilderment from the disenfranchisement of federal protections. It seems as if the American Black population is experiencing a return to third-class citizenship. All of this while under the tenure of a black president.”
“It is the absolute height of injustice, disrespect and inhumanity for the cops in the Danziger and Henry Glover cases to be allowed to not only get away with murder but to even seek to be reimbursed for their legal expenses, get their old jobs back and to be moved to correctional facilities that are more comfortable and convenient for them as they await new trials,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “They have shown absolutely no remorse or concern for the innocent lives lost or the loved ones left behind to grieve in their wake. That says a lot about the caliber of men and women that make up the NOPD.
“Not only are they telling us that blacks have no rights that white people are bound by law to respect, nike the Dred Scott decision,” Aha continued. “They are also telling us that they are not simply above
the law—they are the law.”
Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.
This article originally published in the March 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.