Milestone: Prison time for Katrina killer cops

Four former New Orleans policemen convicted of shooting unarmed people following Hurricane Katrina were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on Wednesday in what the U.S. government described as the most important police misconduct case since the Rodney King beating nearly two decades ago.

The four former officers – Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and Anthony Villavaso – were sentenced by a federal judge to between 38 and 65 years in prison. A fifth former officer – Arthur “Archie” Kaufman – who did not participate in the killings but engineered a four-year cover-up of the crimes was sentenced to six years…

In both the Los Angeles and New Orleans cases, the federal government stepped in to prosecute the police officers for misconduct after local efforts failed.

In its own way, a tale of what passes for justice in America. So much for trust in States Rights.

The five former New Orleans officers sentenced on Wednesday were among a dozen officers who responded to a radio call that police were being shot at near the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans just days after Hurricane Katrina…

James Brissette, 17, and Ronald Madison, 40, were killed in the shooting spree.

In reports filed by the officers or on their behalf, they claimed they shot only after being threatened or fired on and that they had seen weapons in the victims’ hands…

Lance Madison, who was with his brother when Ronald Madison was killed, and who was later arrested and jailed on false charges, told the judge on Wednesday that “I truly don’t know why I am alive today…These officers shot Ronald down like an animal,” he said. Turning to the defendants, he said: “You are responsible for the nightmares that have devastated my family…”

Federal prosecutors and the FBI took up the case in 2009 after a previous case brought by the New Orleans district attorney was thrown out because of a prosecutor’s misconduct.

In the minds of many the ultimate corruption in any local political system is police corruption. Whether there is a thread of payoffs from criminal gangs or systematic racism – there is an overlying disease that infects every police department in the United States. Cops protect cops. Regardless of crimes committed, regardless of the indecency and corruption being protected by a wall of silence, members of police departments will not report crimes committed by fellow officers or testify against them excepting truly unusual circumstances.

It’s not new in New Orleans nor anywhere else in this holier-than-thou nation. Whether we look back at the Rodney King beating or the Knapp Commission findings of corruption in the NYPD – the culture of police departments in this land reinforces an ethic no different from that of the Mafia and other crime fraternities. It has nothing to do with slogans about “Protect and Serve” painted on the side of patrol cars.

I had a member of my family retire early from the NYPD sick at heart with the corruption of his precinct captains. A dear friend here in New Mexico left the first police department he worked in – in this state – because of frustration over the cabals and lack of ethical standards in the department. They were the exception that proves the rule.

The overwhelming members of most police departments are honest hardworking men and women. Don’t mistake my criticism. They do themselves and the public a disservice when they turn a blind eye to the corruption and criminal behavior like these murders of ordinary citizens simply trying to survive a horrible disaster.

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