NEW ORLEANS — (CNN) — A federal judge Wednesday sentenced five former New Orleans police officers to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for the shootings of unarmed civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, prosecutors said.
The ex-officers were convicted in August on a combined 25 counts of civil rights violations in the shootings, which occurred on the Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, six days after much of New Orleans went underwater when the powerful hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt handed the stiffest sentence to former Officer Robert Faulcon, who was handed a 65-year term for his involvement in shooting two of the victims. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gecivius got 40 years for their roles in the incident, while Robert Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years.
The lightest term went to former detective Arthur Kaufman, who was sentenced to six years for attempting to cover up what the officers had done, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in New Orleans.
Prosecutors argued the officers opened fire on an unarmed family, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four others. Minutes later, Faulcon shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man described by Justice Department officials as having severe mental disabilities and who was trying to flee the scene when he was shot, according to the Justice Department.
“We hope that today’s sentences give a measure of peace and closure to the victims of this terrible shooting, who have suffered unspeakable pain and who have waited so patiently for justice to be done,” Thomas Perez, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement on the sentencing.
“The officers who shot innocent people on the bridge and then went to great lengths to cover up their own crimes have finally been held accountable for their actions. As a result of today’s sentencing, the city of New Orleans can take another step forward,” Perez said.
At the time, New Orleans police said they got into a running gun battle with several people.
During the trial, the defense asked the jury to consider the stressful circumstances the officers were operating under following Katrina. The shootings took place during a week of dire flooding, rampant looting and death by drowning, and police were strained by suicides and desertion among their ranks.
Local prosecutors filed similar charges, but no one was convicted. Federal prosecutors then moved in and launched an investigation.
Another officer, Michael Hunter, pleaded guilty in 2010 to conspiracy to obstruct justice and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Hunter admitted that officers on the east side of the Danziger Bridge fired at civilians, even though the same civilians did not appear to have any weapons.