Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Former New Orleans Officers Sentenced in Katrina Shootings

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Former New Orleans Officers Sentenced in Katrina Shootings

Article excerpt

NEW ORLEANS -- Five former police officers were sentenced to prison Wednesday for the shooting of six unarmed civilians, two of whom died, in the days after Hurricane Katrina and for orchestrating a wide-ranging cover-up afterward.

The four officers directly involved in the shooting were sentenced in federal court to terms ranging from 38 to 65 years, while a police sergeant who was charged with investigating the shooting, and instead helped lead the efforts to hide and distort what happened, was sentenced to six years.

But while the sentences were long, they were not nearly as long as prosecutors were seeking -- in one case, less than a third of the sentence the government recommended -- and for the most part were either the mandatory minimum or a few years more than the minimum.

Before delivering the sentences, U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt gave a two-hour speech condemning mandatory minimum sentences for interfering with judicial discretion and criticizing the case put together by federal prosecutors, saying in particular that he was "astonished and deeply troubled" by the plea deals with cooperating witnesses at the heart of the government's case.

"These through-the-looking-glass plea deals that tied the hands of this court ... are an affront to the court and a disservice to the community," he said.

Three police officers who pleaded guilty and later testified at the trial were involved in the shooting on the bridge and received sentences ranging from five to eight years.

Two others, a detective and a police lieutenant who helped orchestrate the cover-up, were sentenced to three and four years, respectively.

The judge spoke of an "air of mendacity" about the prosecution, charging that the plea bargains -- which involved lesser charges that came with capped sentences -- had limited his discretion in sentencing those who were convicted.

"Citing witnesses for perjury at this trial would be like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500," Judge Engelhardt said.

Prosecutors afterward defended their strategy, explaining to reporters that the case was cold when the Justice Department picked it up, after a mishandled prosecution by the local district attorney and a dismissal of all charges by a judge in 2008. …

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