NEW ORLEANS -- Attorneys representing the four jailed New Orleans police officers accused in the Danziger Bridge shootings are trying to convince the magistrate judge who denied their clients bail last month to reconsider after hearing more evidence, including testimony from the FBI agent who handled the investigation.
At an Aug. 10 hearing before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, attorney Frank DeSalvo requested an opportunity to cross-examine FBI agent William Bezak and introduce into evidence previous court testimony of one of the victims in the case. Engelhardt, who heard arguments but did not rule, told the attorneys for the accused NOPD officers that they would have to make their case for the release of their clients with U.S. Magistrate Judge Louis Moore. Engelhardt did say that he would review the evidence once all the information related to a potential bond has been submitted.
After two hearings over the past two weeks, Magistrate Moore denied the four defendants’ bond request. NOPD Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius, officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon are accused of fatally shooting two unarmed men and wounding four other unarmed people on the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans of September 4, 2005, just six days after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city.
Moore ruled that prosecutors present a strong case for their argument that the accused officers — four of 11 NOPD officers charged thus far in the case — posed both a flight risk and a danger to the community. While he can elect to hear more evidence in a new detention hearing, he is not required to do so.
Federal prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein said Wednesday that each of the officers is charged with using a gun during a crime of violence, which under federal law automatically means a defendant is presumed to be both a flight risk and a danger to society, if granted bond. Those risks, Bernstein added, are made even greater when one considers the high-stakes case and the potentially severe penalties the defendants face. The U.S. Department of Justice has not yet determined whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty in this case, but Magistrate Engelhardt suggested last week that a decision could be made by the end of August.
Eric Hessler, Officer Gisevius’ attorney, said it is unfair to penalize the accused officers for carrying weapons because as cops they were ‘required to be armed.’ Hessler argued that the officers had been instructed by the department’s top brass to bring their personal weapons to work for hurricane duty. The local daily paper reported last week that each of the jailed officers was armed not just with the .40-caliber Glock issued by the New Orleans Police Department, but also with personal weapons that varied from assault rifles to a shotgun.
Two other officers charged in the 27-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury last month — Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and retired Sgt. Gerard Dugue — were granted bail. But those two defendants only face charges that they conspired to conceal what happened on the Danziger Bridge, not with firing weapons.
Attorney Frank DeSalvo told Magistrate Engelhardt last week that because the officers’ detention is based largely on the serious charges they face, the court should require federal prosecutors to show exactly what they did. He pointed out that in each of the counts related to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old James Brissette and the wounding of his four companions, the officers are all charged together, accused of ‘aiding and abetting’ each other.
‘They don’t say who shot James Brissette,’ DeSalvo argued, adding that the absence of specific charges in the indictment is one reason he is petitioning the court to examine Bezak in a new hearing.
DeSalvo said he also hopes to introduce into evidence previous testimony of Lance Madison, who the federal indictment describes as wrongly arrested on Sept. 4, 2005. Prosecutors contend that Lance Madison, who officers accused of shooting at them that day, did nothing wrong.
Lance Madison is the brother of Ronald Madison, the mentally disabled man shot by officers on the Danziger Bridge.
Defense attorneys believe that court testimony by Lance Madison several weeks after his arrest could strengthen their clients’ cases. In that testimony, Madison reportedly told a state judge that before NOPD officers arrived at the Danziger Bridge, a group of civilians shot at him and his brother, Ronald.