DANZIGER TRIAL DAY 7!! Danziger Bridge Trial Not Distracting to NOPD Officers, Says Serpas
More over the top testimony today- 7/7/11-for this blockbuster trial. I cannot believe how cool under intense pressure the families are on both sides. Family-wise, all are incredulous, after 6 years, that the trials have arrived. New Orleanians know how important impartiality is while serving on a Federal, State or local jury. The defense is counting on this impartiality so the truth can win out in the end. I have a huge amount of faith in our jury system.
Five current or former New Orleans police officers are on trial, accused of shooting and killing unarmed people on the Danziger Bridge in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Four of the officers set to stand trail were on the bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, and they face the most serious charges. These officers are Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon.
The four are charged with crimes such as using a weapon during the commission of a crime, conspiracy to violate people’s civil rights and deprivation of rights under color of law, one of the federal government’s highest crimes and an offense punishable by life in jail.
All four officers have been in jail since they were indicted last summer. Bowen, Gisevius and Villavaso are still New Orleans police officers, currently suspended without pay. Faulcon left the department in 2005 after the storm. Federal prosecutors say the officers opened fire on on unarmed civilians. Attorneys for the officers say were fired on and had to respond.
The fifth officer set to stand trial is longtime homicide detective Archie Kaufman. Kaufman was not on the bridge but helped investigate the incident months after the fact. Prosecutors say Kaufman made up evidence, obstructed justice and lied to FBI agents.
The defendants are being tried together, but the jury will deliver a verdict on each individual count. That means that as with the high-profile Henry Glover trial that ended last December, the jury can find some officers guilty and others not guilty based on what they hear at trial.
With details of the Danziger trial already flooding local, regional, national and international headlines, New Orleans and its police department have been forced to revisit the post-Katrina tragedy- again.
“I think the distraction is only in that we read about it,” said NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas. “The officers watch the news, they read the newspaper and they hear about it.”
While a jury heard the first chilling accounts of what happened on the Danziger Bridge six years ago from a woman shot and injured by police, officers with the New Orleans Police Department are doing their best to stay focused.
“They understand that this is a difficult time. They understand that we have a long ways to go,” Serpas said. “But they also understand that we’ve made some good first steps.”
Serpas said despite the negative spotlight the federal case is shining on his department, cases continue to be investigated, arrests made, and jobs are getting done.
“I’m not seeing a distraction in the work. I’m not seeing a distraction in the officers coming here and making the differences that we’ve asked them to make,” Serpas said.
But in recent months the department has been dogged by negative press, including an investigation into questionable police officer details, and before that, the month-long Henry Glover trial.
“Any litigation of this nature, criminal litigation especially on the federal level, we’re asking ourselves, ‘What’s this going to do to the police officers who are still on the street?’” said Henry Dean, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “It almost becomes a question with a multiple choice answer, and you can choose all of the above.”
Dean said with this latest trial, he’s seeing mixed reactions from NOPD officers.
“I’ve spoken to officers that are really devastated. They’re very, very concerned about the trial and the ultimate effects it’s going to have,” Dean said. “On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve spoken to officers that can’t tell you how many people are on the jury or what the jury makeup is, and that tells me they haven’t even watched the news.”
As the Danziger trial kicks off and NOPD is reminded of its troubled past, Dean wants to remind the community that one case doesn’t represent an entire force.
“We also know, indictments are just that, they’re indictments. Lets get through the due process portion of it, and if officers are convicted, then OK, that officer is convicted,” Dean said. “It’s not indicative of the entire police department.”
The Danziger trial is expected to last around eight weeks.