U.S Attorney General Eric Holder bristled at the Federal Courthouse on Poydras Street this afternoon when asked about allegations made by defense attorneys in the Danziger Bridge case that federal agents may have fabricated evidence to secure six more indictments of New Orleans Police Department Officers, announced this afternoon.
Holder (center) with U.S. Attorney Jim Letten at the Federal Courthouse on Poydras Street this afternoon
Holder was joined by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in announcing the indictments. Today's charges follow six other guilty pleas in the Danziger case the six more accused officers were all arrested this morning, and Letten intends to seek their incarceration until trial. Read the full story, with video, after the jump.
"Nobody manufactures evidence that we end up relying on," said Letten, responding to the question about allegedly manufactured evidence in the case.
"Yeah let me make this clear," said Holder, stepping in with his index finger raised. "In other words, that's not true. Right? That's simply not true. That is not what happened here. The people who conducted this investigation did so with integrity, they did it with hard work, and the notion that somehow or other evidence was manufactured is simply not true, and I'm really restraining myself from using stronger language than that."
Officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, and Anthony Villavaso have been charged for allegedly shooting at an unarmed family on the east side of the bridge on September 4, 2005, killing 17-year-old James Brissette, and wounding four other members of the Bartholomew family. The family's 14-year-old son was also shot at, but ran away, unharmed.
A second shooting occurred minutes later on the west side of the bridge, where officers allegedly shot at two brothers, killing Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man with severe mental disabilities. Officer Faulcon is charged with shooting the dead man in the back as he ran away, while Officer Bowen is charged with stomping and kicking Madison as he lay wounded, but was not yet dead. Madison's brother, Lance, was subsequently arrested and accused of eight counts of attempting to kill police officers. He was released from jail three weeks later without indictment.
"As our investigation of the Danziger Bridge shooting shows, the Justice Department will hold those who violate the law responsible for their actions," said Attorney General Holder. "Put simply, we will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who are sworn to protect the public. This will not stand, and we will hold all offenders accountable."
"The constitution and the rule of law do not take a holiday, even after a hurricane," said Thomas E.Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division in Holder's office.
If those four officers are convicted, Letten refused to rule out the death penalty.
"There is a very very precise protocol, process, internal within the department of justice that's well established through which the determination is made in death eligible cases through which the US decides whether or not it will seek the death penalty," said Letten. "That process has yet to take place. Ultimately it is a decision which is made at the attorney general level."
"The law provides that as a potential process if we seek it," he added.
Also indicted today were Sergeants Arthur Kaufman and Gerard Dugue, who were initially given responsibility for investigating the incident. Kaufman is charged with taking a gun from his home and claiming to have found it at the bridge on the day after the shooting, and with making up witnesses and then creating statements from the fictional witnesses to help justify the shooting. Kaufman and Dugue are also accused of holding a meeting in an abandoned NOPD building in which homicide sergeants instructed officers to get their stories straight, and with conspiring with each other to in the coverup. Kaufman faces up to 120 years in prizon, while Dugue faces up to 70 years in prison, if convicted.
Holden paid tribute to the efforts of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to work with his office to bring about positive change in the police department since taking office, and cited "positive transformations" in cities like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, where the Department of Justice has worked with other local police departments on reform. "These reform efforts work," he said.
Asked why it has taken five years for the indictments to be handed down, Letten said his office wanted to allow the District Attorney's office to complete its investigation locally without interference.
With these latest revelations in the investigation, it is now time to look forward," said Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas in a statement issued after the press conference.