Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting Away With Murder

Just read the comments below in the article.

Murder charges against seven NOPD officers tossed out by judge

by Laura Maggi
Wednesday August 13, 2008, 2:46 PM

Murder and attempted murder charges against seven New Orleans police officers, accused of shooting unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina, were tossed out by Criminal District Court Judge Raymond Bigelow, who concluded that an Orleans Parish prosecutor tainted the secrecy of the grand jury process by showing a piece of testimony to another officer.

"The violation is clear, and indeed, uncontroverted. The state improperly disclosed grand jury testimony to another police officer," Bigelow said, reading his ruling from the bench.

The judge also dealt a blow to the prosecution on two other pending defense challenges to the indictment, providing further reason to quash certain charges against specific defendants.

He concluded former Assistant District Attorney Dustin Davis improperly gave immunity to three officers for their testimony before the grand jury, which subsequently indicted those officers, as well as four others. Bigelow also found that the instructions that Davis gave to the grand jury considering the attempted murder charges were flawed.

The officers stoically sat in the front row of Bigelow's courtroom, showing almost no emotion as the judge read his decision, while a couple of their wives wiped away tears with tissues.

The family of one victim, 40-year-old Ronald Madison, also sat at the front of the courtroom. After the judge read his decision, they lamented the state of the city's criminal justice system, saying they planned to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the case.

"Our family today still feels that the ruling just proves again that the justice system here in New Orleans is still flawed," said Romell Madison, the brother of Ronald Madison.

Bigelow's decision comes at an uncertain time for the Orleans Parish district attorney's office, several months before a new DA will be elected. But Assistant District Attorney Robert White, who took over the DA's public corruption unit earlier this year, said he will be looking at various options to possibly revive the charges, including an appeal or a new grand jury.

The shootings on Sept. 4, 2005 left two men dead: Madison, a 40-year-old man whose relatives describe him as having the mental capacity of a child, and 19-year-old James Brissette. Four other people were severely wounded.

In civil federal lawsuits, survivors of the shooting have said they were unarmed and ambushed by the officers, who jumped out of the back of a rental truck and started shooting.

Police officials have acknowledged the officers shot people on two separate sides of the bridge, but said they did so only after first being shot at. A police report said they arrived at the scene that morning in response to calls over the police radio about people shooting at other officers and rescue workers.

The officers were indicted in late December 2006 after a lengthy grand jury investigation. Former officer Robert Faulcon, who quit the force after the storm, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Madison. Along with Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, and officer Anthony Villavaso, Faulcon also faces a first-degree murder charge in Brissette's death.

Those officers, as well as officers Michael Hunter, Ignatius Hills and Robert Barrios, also were indicted with a slew of attempted-murder charges for wounding or shooting at the other victims.

While the officers have all maintained their actions were justified, the police investigation into the incident conducted by the NOPD's homicide unit was incomplete and, in many ways, questionable, according to a review of the 53-page report obtained last year by The Times-Picayune.

Homicide detectives limited their extended probe into the incident to mostly police witnesses. The investigate report, which cleared the officers, based its conclusions, in part, on the statements of a man who was pretending to be a St. Landry Parish sheriff deputy, but who in fact turns out to be an impostor with a criminal record.

Physical evidence wasn't picked up by police right after the shooting. Instead, officers went back to the scene seven weeks later. At the same time, the police department allowed some evidence to be discarded, such as the rental truck used by officers after the storm, which they drove the bridge when they received a call about officers in possible distress.

And for this we have a retiring judge who made his living as a prosecuting attorney to thank. To Mr. Bigelow, murdering people is OK, so long as you are a police officer. There can be no other conclusion, especially when one considers his past record of rulings in favor of law enforcement against defendants in coercive settings. It is remarkable how pro-police judges start writing and sounding like members of the ACLU when it is one of their own. In both cases to which the killer cops stood charged, the victims were perfectly blameless (one of the victims was disabled, unarmed, and shot in the back). Of course, none of them look like Mr. Bigelow or lived in his neighborhood. Indeed, the victims were black, a group Bigelow enjoys making remarks about on the bench.

When Bigelow is not making racially charged remarks or dropping charges against murderous police officers, he likes to skim court fine money (on goddess knows what). A real New Orleans politician.

For those of you who would like to contact this lovely man, here he is.

Section I Court sessions are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. except during scheduled holidays and other section specific announced activities.

Presiding Judge: Honorable Raymond C. Bigelow
Location: 2nd Floor (S. White Street side of building)
Phone Number: (504) 658-9310
Fax: (504) 658-9311

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