Police Indicted in New Orleans Shooting Spree
In a credibility contest between the police and almost anyone else, the police usually win. Not so in New Orleans, where a grand jury rejected the official account of police shootings on the Danziger Bridge six days after Hurricane Katrina. The police justified the slaying of two people and the wounding of four others as “an appropriate response to reports of both sniper fire and people shooting at police officers near the bridge.”
Lance Madison was arrested for shooting at cops, but a grand jury refused to indict him. Instead, it indicted seven officers for a variety of charges that include murder.
There may well have been shots fired near the bridge before the police arrived, but survivors of the shooting spree filed a lawsuit that raises serious questions about the claimed justification for gunning down the (apparently unarmed) people on the bridge.
On Sept. 4 about 9 a.m., Ronald and Lance Madison walked near the top of the Danziger Bridge, returning to their brother's dental office on Chef Menteur Highway after a failed attempt to go to their mother's home in eastern New Orleans. Ronald Madison, who was severely retarded, had insisted on staying in the city because he could not bear to leave behind the family dachshunds, Bobbi and Sushi. ... At the same time, according to the lawsuits, another group of people was walking at the base of the bridge on a trek to a nearby Winn Dixie to retrieve food and water. ...
Suddenly, the people on the bridge were confronted by a hail of gunfire coming from a group of men in "dark clothing" who had emerged from the back of a rental truck at the foot of the bridge, the lawsuits said.
The men “turned out to be the seven heavily armed, out-of-uniform police officers [who were] indicted on Thursday.”
Jose Holmes Jr. describes jumping behind a concrete barrier to escape the bullets. Officers shot Holmes several times even though he lay prone on the ground, the lawsuit alleges. One officer stood over him and shot him twice in the abdomen, according to the suit.
During the shooting, Holmes' friend James Brissette -- called James Barsett in the lawsuit -- was killed. His uncle, Leonard Bartholomew III, and cousin, Lesha Bartholomew, also were shot several times. His aunt, Susan Bartholomew, lost her arm after being shot by a "large-caliber" weapon. The gunmen also fired on Leonard Bartholomew IV, Holmes' 15-year-old cousin, but missed. ...
Although the Madisons kept trying to run down the bridge to get out of the line of fire, at least one of the officers pursued, shooting Ronald Madison seven times in the back ...
The indictment of the seven officers appears entirely appropriate, but Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan’s comments are not.
Jordan said, "We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification, like rabid dogs. The rules governing the use of lethal force are not suspended during a state of emergency. Everyone, including police officers, must abide by the law of the land."
The “rabid dogs” comment is out of line, just as DA Nifong’s comments (which have led to a disciplinary inquiry by the State Bar) were in the Duke rape case. Prosecutors need to learn to stick to the facts if they feel the need to hold press conferences about charging decisions. Better yet, they should learn to let their evidence speak for them in court rather than grandstanding in a way that jeopardizes the possibility of a fair trial.
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