01/06/2007

Officers charged in La. shooting can work

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- All seven policemen charged with murder or attempted murder in a bridge shooting after Hurricane Katrina were free on bail Friday, and a judge said the six still on the New Orleans Police force can return to limited duty.

One former officer, now a truck driver in Texas, can also return to work, Judge Raymond Bigelow said.

The seven men pleaded not guilty in court Friday to murder or attempted murder charges.

Four of the officers face counts of first-degree murder that carry a possible death sentence. A grand jury indicted the seven last week in connection with the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the city's Danziger Bridge that killed two men and wounded four other people.

Five of the indicted men will be required to wear monitoring devices will be confined to home, work, attorney visits and court appearances, defense attorneys said.

Although Bigelow said the officers can work, Assistant Police Superintendent Steven Nicholas said no decision had been made on whether they would return to duty. They were put on a 120-day unpaid suspension after the indictments, he said.

Fraternal Order of Police lawyer Donovan Livaccari said he will urge Police Superintendent Warren Riley to let the officers return to work on a limited basis. ''It won't be on the street. It won't be in uniform,'' Livaccari said.

Tracie Washington, spokeswoman for the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, expressed disappointment that officers accused of murder would be allowed out and to return to work. She and other NAACP representatives hoped to meet with Police Superintendent Warren Riley to ask that the officers not be allowed to return to duty.

''There should be accountability on both sides. We want a fair trial, but we want the community to feel safe,'' she said.

As one of the officers left the courthouse, surrounded by attorneys and police officers, a small group of activists shouted ''murderer.''

Bail on a first-degree murder charge is rare in Louisiana, defense lawyer Franz Zibilich acknowledged, but added: ''Charging police officers with first-degree murder while they're in the course and scope of their employment is equally rare.''

Exactly what happened that day on the Danziger Bridge remains unclear. The hurricane had hit the city a few days earlier, flooding 80 percent of it, and there were widespread reports of lawlessness, looting and violence.

Police say that the indicted officers were responding to a report of other officers being attacked at the bridge and that one of the victims, 40-year-old Ronald Madison, was reaching for a gun.

Madison's brother, Lance, has said that his mental retarded brother wasn't armed and that the two were running from a group of teens who had opened fire when seven men jumped out of a rental truck and also shot at them without warning.

Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius Jr., officer Anthony Villavaso II and former officer Robert Faulcon Jr., were indicted on first-degree murder charges and attempted murder charges. Officers Robert Barrios and Mike Hunter Jr. were charged with attempted first-degree murder, and Officer Ignatius Hills was charged with attempted second-degree murder.

Hunter and Hills made bail earlier this week. A defense lawyer said they will not be required to wear monitoring devices.

 

 

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