Charges dismissed against officers in Danziger bridge killings

Murder and attempted-murder charges against seven New Orleans police officers-accused of shooting unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina-were tossed out by a judge who concluded that a prosecutor violated grand jury secrecy, the Times-Picayune reports.

According to the Times-Picayune, District Judge Raymond Bigelow agreed with defense arguments that prosecutors violated state law by divulging secret grand jury testimony to a police officer who was a witness in the case. Assistant District Attorney Robert White said his office would analyze the rulings and will look at various options to possibly revive the charges, including an appeal or a new grand jury.

The notorious Danziger Bridge incident took place six days after Katrina struck New Orleans. The police had been accused of shooting pedestrians on the bridge, killing two men and severely wounding four others. The pedestrians were shot multiple times, and one woman had an arm partially blown off.

Facing South reported on the Danziger Bridge officers' December 2006 indictment following the lengthy grand jury investigation. The Institute for Southern Studies also discussed the shooting in our special report, Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, in a section outlining human rights abuses involving Katrina survivors and criminal justice authorities in the wake of the hurricane. As we reported in 2007:

While police claim they were shot at first, no weapons have been recovered linked to the civilians on the bridge, and the survivors insist they did nothing to provoke police. An autopsy showed that one of the people killed-a developmentally disabled 40-year-old named Ronald Madison-was shot in the back.

In civil lawsuits filed at federal court, survivors of the shooting have continued to assert they were unarmed and ambushed by the officers, who jumped from a rental truck and started shooting.

The accused officers continue to deny wrongdoing, and the police department cleared them in an internal investigation that drew criticism. According to the Times-Picayune, the investigation by the NOPD's homicide unit was incomplete and, in many ways, questionable.

Many Katrina survivors reported instances of police misconduct in the days following the hurricane. The Danziger Bridge case has sparked outrage among the families of the victims and their supporters, who say the accused officers received preferential treatment, Reuters reports.

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

The Associated Press calls the Danziger Bridge case just the latest in a series of high-profile, emotional criminal prosecutions tied to Katrina that have fizzled, citing:

Last year a grand jury refused to charge a doctor and two nurses in connection with the deaths of four patients at a New Orleans hospital after the storm. A jury also returned a not-guilty verdict against the operators of a St. Bernard Parish nursing home where more than 30 residents died in the storm's flooding.