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Former New Orleans Police Officer Sentenced for Role in Danziger Bridge Shootings

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Special to the NNPA from theDefendersonline.com –

A former New Orleans police officer was sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison for his role in the notorious Danziger Bridge police shooting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina five years ago.

The shooting, in which a group of police officers launched an unprovoked attack on unarmed civilians who were crossing the bridge, left two men dead, and four people wounded.

The officers initially claimed they had come under fire and were only defending themselves. But that claim and the cover-up the officers concocted slowly unraveled under the weight of multiple local, state, and federal investigations of the conduct of the city’s beleaguered police department after the hurricane struck.

Michael Hunter, 33, who had pleaded guilty in April to obstruction of justice and misprision of a felony — failing to report a crime — apologized to the families of the victims in a hushed courtroom of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans. He said he was sorry for “not having the courage” to admit the crime that had occurred and his own role in it.

Hunter was the driver of the rented van that delivered a group of police officers to the bridge on September 4, 2005. When their fusillade ended, James Brissette, 17, lay dead, and Ronald Madison, 40, lay fatally wounded. Four family members of the two men were wounded. The families did not know each other and were not walking together on the bridge. They had simply crossed the bridge in search of food and medical help.

The shooting immediately produced a firestorm of controversy. Hunter eventually struck a plea deal with Justice Department investigators, providing a detailed description of what had happened at the Bridge after the officers arrived, including which police officers fired the shots that killed Madison and Brissette.

The pressure to pursue justice in the case was such that when the federal indictments against the police officers were announced last July, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. traveled to the city to participate in the news conference with the U.S. Attorney for New Orleans.

U.S. District Court Judge Sarah S. Vance brushed aside Hunter’s apology, excoriating him and the other officers involved for their “profound breach of public trust” and “appalling perversion” and savagery.”

She sentenced him to the maximum amount of time in prison for his guilty plea. His sentence could be reduced, depending on his testimony at the upcoming trials of his former brother officers.

Hunter is expected to testify at the trials of the six other indicted officers in the case. Those trials are scheduled to begin in June.

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