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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Former Cop Sentenced to 8 Years in Civil Rights Case

Former NOPD officer Michael Hunter sentenced to 8 years in Danziger Bridge civil rights case
NOLA.COM - December 2, 2010

Moments before a federal judge sentenced him to eight years in prison, former New Orleans police officer Michael Hunter faced the family members of the victims in the Danziger Bridge police shooting. Officer Michael Hunter was surrounded by supportive New Orleans police as he went to turn himself in in January 2007. With heavy eyes and a quavering voice, Hunter turned away from the judge, toward the relatives and apologized for "not having the courage" to come forward sooner. He said he understood an apology would not heal their wounds, adding that "hopefully, time and God" will help ease the pain. It has been more than five years since a group of police officers fatally shot two men and wounded four others on the bridge, a week after Hurricane Katrina. On Wednesday, for the first time, the man who drove the rental truck full of officers to the bridge that day said he was sorry. U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Vance offered her own condolences to the relatives of the victims and launched into a scathing soliloquy, lambasting Hunter and his colleagues. "It is hard to imagine a more profound breach of public trust than what happened here," Vance said. She went through the facts of the case, detailing accounts of cover-up and coercion, of "appalling perversion" and shocking "savagery." She explained that Hunter's actions, "a moral outrage," warranted the maximum possible sentence of eight years. And she said that Hunter's claim that he fired his weapon at unarmed civilians, but hit no one, is "fortuitous and doesn't excuse what you did." Vance said Hunter's "decency" was slow to take root, and that she had difficulty sympathizing for him.

Hunter pleaded guilty earlier this year to obstruction of justice and misprision of a felony, or failing to report a crime. He was the first officer who participated in the shooting to sign a plea deal. Hunter is to begin his federal prison sentence on March 14, 2011. He will be eligible for a reduction in prison time -- perhaps a major one -- if, as expected, he testifies against the other six indicted officers in a federal trial set for June. Hunter is likely to be a key government witness. In entering his plea in April, he provided prosecutors with some of the most chilling and specific details of the incident. Hunter, one of five officers to plead guilty, alleged that a New Orleans police sergeant, Kenneth Bowen, sprayed assault rifle fire at wounded civilians at close range, even after it was clear that police were not taking fire. He also said he saw another officer, Robert Faulcon, fire a shotgun at a fleeing man's back. Hunter also acknowledged participating in a cover-up with colleagues. At one point, in a meeting with other officers, a supervisor said "something to the effect of, we don't want this to look like a massacre," according to documents filed in Hunter's plea agreement. James Brissette, 17, was killed by police gunfire on the eastern side of the bridge that day. Ronald Madison, 40 and mentally disabled, was killed by a shotgun blast at the base of the western part of the bridge. Police officers initially contended that they were taking fire from the civilians on the bridge. Federal prosecutors allege that the officers, realizing they had shot unarmed civilians without cause, orchestrated an elaborate cover-up with the help of supervisors. The allegations include planted evidence, and fabricated witnesses, false statements and more. In the courtroom Wednesday, Lorna Madison Humphrey, the sister of Ronald Madison, spoke of the episode's effect on the Madison family.

Police officers falsely arrested Lance Madison who was initially accused of shooting at police. He was never charged, and several officers have confessed that he was framed. "It has taken years for the truth to be known," Humphrey read from a prepared speech. "We would not wish upon anyone the tragedy that we have experienced over the last five years." She said the family was thankful Hunter came forward, but saddened that he hadn't done so sooner. She also pointed out that officers falsely arrested her other brother, Lance Madison, who was initially accused of shooting at police. Lance Madison was never charged, and several officers have confessed that he was framed. "For our family, there is no way to undo what has happened," Humphrey said. "The only way we can move forward is to continue to ask for justice to prevail. This is all we have ever asked for." As Humphrey spoke, Hunter stood an arms-length away, his hands folded, his head slightly bowed. The courtroom fell silent when he stepped to the podium. In short order, he turned from the microphone and spoke to Humphrey and others who sat in a front courtroom bench. Then he turned his attention to his wife, who sat in the corner of the room, closest to the door and farthest from her husband. "I was selfish and chose my career over my family and made some horrible decisions," he said to her, her eyes filling with tears. Next, Hunter requested that the judge have "mercy and be lenient," not for his sake, but for his family's. Hunter was one of the so-called "Danziger 7," a group of seven officers initially charged with murder in state court in late 2006, a case that fell apart because of prosecutorial misconduct. His turn in court Wednesday could not have been more different from his appearance on the January morning three years earlier when he and the other indicted officers turned themselves in to face those state charges. That day, he had a bowl haircut and boyish look, wore a fleece jacket and jeans. He walked into jail amid backslaps and hugs from colleagues. On Wednesday, he sported a buzz cut, a beard and an all-black suit. No one cheered as he walked from the courthouse, holding his wife's hand. Brendan McCarthy can be reached at or 504.826.3301.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

about time