6 Aug 2011

New Orleans police convicted of covering up shootings

1:45 pm on 6 August 2011

Five police officers in New Orleans have been convicted in connection with fatal shootings in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina six years ago.

Two unarmed residents were killed and four others wounded in an incident after the 2005 storm, which flooded much of the city.

While finding that neither of the two fatal shootings was a murder, a United States federal jury has convicted the officers of violations stemming from the cover-up of the deaths of James Brissette, 17, and Ronald Madison, 40.

They now face life in prison.

Four of the officers have also been found guilty of civil rights violations.

People in search of food

During the five-week trial, the BBC reports, prosecutors said police unjustifiably shot six unarmed people trying to cross the Danziger Bridge in search of food less than a week after the storm struck New Orleans.

The US Justice Department says the evidence at the trial established that three officers opened fire on an unarmed family on the bridge, killing James Brissette and wounding four other members of the family.

Minutes later, officers shot at two brothers on the other side of the bridge, killing Ronald Madison as he tried to run away.

Prosecutors also argued in earlier court proceedings that the accused officers plotted to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports to cover up what they had done.

Lawyers representing the officers argued that they were shot at before they returned fire and believed their lives were in danger.

'Healing power' of verdict

After the verdict, US Attorney Jim Letten said the importance of the verdict could not be overstated - "the power, the message it sends to the community, the healing power it has."

Since Katrina, the New Orleans police department has been the target of allegations of corruption and brutality.

Last year, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu described the city's police department as "one of the worst" in the country and asked the federal government to help reform it.