Thursday, December 02, 2010

Background - Danziger Bridge

ProPublica
http://www.propublica.org/nola/case/topic/case-six

New Orleans police officers responded to an emergency call near Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005. They opened fire on a group of civilians, injuring four and killing two.

The autopsy reports show that Ronald Madison, 40, was shot once in the shoulder and five times in the back, while 17-year-old James Brissette was killed by seven gunshots.

The survivors were seriously injured: Susan Bartholomew lost her right arm as a result of the gunfire; Lesha Bartholomew suffered four gunshot wounds; Leonard Bartholomew was shot three times; and Jose Holmes Jr. had to have a colostomy after he was shot in the stomach.

No police officers were injured.

The Police Account

At approximately 9 a.m., police responded to a report that two officers had been shot in the area of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road, near Danziger Bridge, according to the NOPD’s report of the incident. Once they arrived, the officers say, they came under fire and began shooting back.

They initially charged Ronald Madison’s brother, Lance Madison, with eight counts of attempted murder, but a grand jury declined to indict him.

The Civilians’ Account

All of the surviving civilians agree on one thing: They didn’t shoot at the police. They’ve filed a string of lawsuits against the police claiming their rights were violated; those suits remain on hold as federal authorities investigate.

According to a suit filed by Holmes, the officers didn’t issue any orders or warnings before firing their weapons, and their vehicle did not have any markings on it to identify them as law enforcement officers. Holmes says he was shot twice in his abdomen by an officer standing over him.

The Aftermath

Investigators assigned to the Danziger Bridge shooting relied heavily on their colleagues’ statements for their 54-page report. Reporters at the New Orleans Times-Picayune haven’t been able to locate two civilian witnesses who were interviewed for the report, or uncover any evidence that these witnesses actually exist. And another key witness, David Ryder, was a fraud. He told police he was a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy, but, in fact, Ryder was a convicted criminal who’d never worked for the St. Landry sheriff.

Eddie Jordan, then the New Orleans district attorney, got an indictment of seven officers on murder and attempted murder charges in December 2006. Citing prosecutorial missteps, a state court judge dismissed the case in 2008.

FBI agents are now investigating the Danziger Bridge shooting. In September, the agents shut down the bridge, trying to recreate the scene and collect any remaining evidence. Dozens of officers and department leaders -– including the current chief and his predecessor—have been called to testify before a grand jury.

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