I helped hide how my officers opened fire on 'unarmed' civilans after Katrina, ex-New Orleans police lieutenant tells
Last updated at 10:23 PM on 28th June 2011
An ex-New Orleans police lieutenant today told how his former colleagues conspired to plant a gun and lied to cover-up the shooting of unarmed civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Michael Lohman took the stand in the trial over shootings that killed two victims on the city's Danziger Bridge in September 2005.
Four of the city's police officers are on trial accused of indiscriminately opening fire with shotguns and assault rifles amid confusion in the aftermath of the disaster.
Aftermath: Lance Madison is arrested by Louisiana State Police and New Orleans Police Department SWAT teams Sept. 4, 2005, after the alleged shooting on the Danziger Bridge. His brother had just been shot dead
Grief: Lorna Madison, right, sister of victim Ronald Madison, with Fuki Madison, Ronald's mother, center, and Micheal Jenkins, his friend
'Cover up': Former New Orleans Police Lieutenant Michael Lohman said he conspired with officers to make it seem that they were justified in opening fire
Sergeant Kenneth Bowen, former officer Robert Faulcon, Seargeant. Robert Gisevius and Officer Anthony Villavaso deny any wrongdoing in the shootings that killed 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who was severely mentally disabled.
Brissette is said to have died in a hail of gunfire when officers opened up without reason while Maddison was allegedly shot in the back with a shotgun minutes later.
Mr Lohman told the jury that when he arrived at the scene of the shooting, none of the junior officers could explain why they opened fire.
He said he arrived at the bridge to find 'people lying on the pedestrian walkway with multiple gunshot wounds' but no evidence of any of them being armed.
But after finding the body of Mr Madison, he became increasingly concerend that he could see lot of wounded people but 'no guns'.
'They seemed to be unsure of what actually happened,' Lohman recalled. 'There was too much uncertainty, and things didn't add up.'
He said he told the officers to go 'collect themselves, calm down and then come back and tell me what happened.'
He indicated that he expected them to make up an untrue story according to WDSU New Orleans.
He said Officer Kenneth Bowen then came back and said, 'What about this? I kicked the guns off the bridge because the scene was still hot. I did not want anyone else to pick up the guns.'
Lohman said he put Sgt. Arthur Kaufman in charge of the investigation.
Accused: Sergeant Kenneth Bowen and former New Orleans police officer Robert Faulcon pictured as they handed themselves in over the Danziger Bridge shootings in 2007
Handing themselves in: Sgt. Robert Gisevius, left, and Anthony Villavoso were also greetedby supporters when they handed themselves in
Prosecutors say the confusion started when police officers on a nearby interstate reported that someone was shooting and gave the impression they had a 'man down'.
Shortly afterwards nine officers arrived on the nearby Danziger Bridge and opened fire. The Bartholomew family came under fire and four of them were injured.
Susan Bartholemew had her arm shot off and 17-year-old James Briseete was shot dead.
Officers say they were shot at but no weapons were found at the scene.
Further up the bridge, another officer is said to have opened fire with an assault rifle at mentally-disabled Ronald Maddison ansd his brother Lance.
Officer Faulcon is said to have driven up the bridge, got out and shot Ronald Maddison in the back before stomping on his body and arresting his brother unharmed.
No weapons were found at the scene
Lohman expressed concern that there were no guns on the scene. He said Kaufman told him he had a gun he could put on the scene. He then asked Kaufman whether the weapon was 'clean,' meaning it could not be traced, and Kaufman said it was.
Lohman then said he told Kaufman that 'if he was going to do it, to do it and not talk about it with anyone else. Just do it.'
'The guys who were involved in this were co-workers, and some of them were friends of mine. I didn't want anybody to get into trouble," Lohman said.
'I feel pretty horrible about all of it, but most particularly about the people who were killed and wounded.They were people who didn't deserve what they got.'
His evidence came a day after the court heard a woman describe how her arm was blown off as officers opened fire.
Susan Bartholemew told jurors she felt bullets piercing her body as she huddled with her husband and teenage daughter behind a concrete barrier. She recalled that her daughter, lying on the ground next to her, tried to shield her body from the hail of gunfire.
She recalled that her daughter, lying on the ground next to her, tried to shield her body from the hail of gunfire.
I prayed. I just called to the Lord because I didn't know what else to do,' Bartholomew said.
Bartholomew said it wasn't until after the shooting stopped that she realized police officers had shot her, leaving her right arm hanging by just a strip of skin.
She said the officers approached them as they lay on the bridge, threatened to kill them and yelled at them to hold up their hands.
'Of course I couldn't because my arm was shot off,' she said. 'I raised the only hand I had.'
Opening arguments started Monday with prosecutors painting a picture of out of control police opening fire on unarmed civilians without following proper procedure.
Defense attorneys countered with a portrait of stressed, tired, overworked officers reacting to what they thought was an attack on fellow officers.
'They cut loose with assault rifles and shotguns and they did so without ever identifying themselves,' Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein said of the officers. 'The mistake they made was thinking anyone walking on the Danziger Bridge that day was a criminal.'
The officers are accused of plotting to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports to make the shootings appear justified. Five other former officers already have pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up.
Crime scene: A caution tape floats in the wind over a walkway running alongside the Danziger Bridge
A .223 caliber shell casing lies alongside the road on Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans, Louisiana November 10, 2005.
They are cooperating with the government and are expected to testify during the trial, which could last up to eight weeks.
Defense attorneys said their clients had honored their oaths to protect and serve, quickly beginning rescue missions even though they too suffered from the hurricane's destruction.
They saw death and suffering, worked in horrifying conditions and heard gunshots so frequently at night they had to stop rescue missions when the sun went down.
Holmes survived, but Brissette died on the east side of the bridge. On the west side, Faulcon allegedly shot Madison in the back with a shotgun as he and his brother, Lance Madison, were fleeing from the gunfire. Ronald Madison was lying on the ground when Bowen walked over and asked a fellow officer, 'Is that one of them?" before he repeatedly stomped on the dying man, Bernstein said.
'This was a tragedy for everyone involved, police officers and victims," said attorney Lindsay Larson, who represents Faulcon. 'It was a horrible, terrible mistake, but it was not a federal crime.'