Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-up in the Wake of Katrina
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Named one of the top books of 2015 by NewsOne Now, and named one of the best books of August 2015 by Apple
Winner of the 2015 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award
A harrowing story of blue on black violence, of black lives that seemingly did not matter.
On September 4, 2005, six days after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans, two groups of people intersected on the Danziger Bridge, a low-rising expanse over the Industrial Canal. One was the police who had stayed behind as Katrina roared near, desperate to maintain control as their city spun into chaos. The other was the residents forced to stay behind with them during the storm and, on that fateful Sunday, searching for the basics of survival: food, medicine, security. They collided that morning in a frenzy of gunfire.
When the shooting stopped, a gentle forty-year-old man with the mind of a child lay slumped on the ground, seven bullet wounds in his back, his white shirt turned red. A seventeen-year-old was riddled with gunfire from his heel to his head. A mother’s arm was blown off; her daughter’s stomach gouged by a bullet. Her husband’s head was pierced by shrapnel. Her nephew was shot in the neck, jaw, stomach, and hand. Like all the other victims, he was black—and unarmed.
Before the blood had dried on the pavement, the shooters, each a member of the New Orleans Police Department, and their supervisors hatched a cover-up. They planted a gun, invented witnesses, and charged two of their victims with attempted murder. At the NOPD, they were hailed as heroes.
Shots on the Bridge explores one of the most dramatic cases of police violence seen in our country in the last decade—the massacre of innocent people, carried out by members of the NOPD, in the brutal, disorderly days following Hurricane Katrina. It reveals the fear that gripped the police of a city slid into anarchy, the circumstances that drove desperate survivors to the bridge, and the horror that erupted when the police opened fire. It carefully unearths the cover-up that nearly buried the truth. And finally, it traces the legal maze that, a decade later, leaves the victims and their loved ones still searching for justice.
This is the story of how the people meant to protect and serve citizens can do violence, hide their tracks, and work the legal system as the nation awaits justice.
From the Hardcover edition.
would deny leaning over the railing and spraying gunfire at innocents. Those images, he said, took place solely in Hunter’s mind. Racing to the bridge after the 108 call, Hunter had felt his insides fill with fury, stunned that, once more, police appeared under attack. That mix of fear and rage engulfed the Budget truck, coursing through officers black (Faulcon, Villavaso, Barrios, and Hills) and white (Hunter, Bowen, and Gisevius). In the months to follow, the focus would be on these seven, not
“I knew this was a bullshit story, but I went along with it,” he will later admit. So did his colleagues, the men who shot at the people on the bridge and the supervisors who were supposed to ferret out the truth. In the coming days and months, police will plant a phony gun, invent witnesses, craft fictional reports, and launch a public relations campaign portraying the officers as heroes infused with bravery amid the horrors wrought by a hurricane. Behind the scenes, a racial divide is exposed
with a gun?” “Yes.” “You agree that you never saw Lance Madison with a gun?” “Yes.” “Do you agree that you can only use deadly force if you perceive that your life or the life of another person is in imminent danger?” “Yes.” A few moments later, she asked, “Every time you fire your weapon you have to have a reason to fire, correct?” “Yeah,” Faulcon replied. “I mean, your life would have to be in danger, correct?” “So you agree that you cannot fire your weapon simply because you presume
reaffirmed along with the guilty verdicts for the officers, Lance Madison spoke outside the courthouse, with Bernstein, the lead prosecutor, behind him and the family’s civil lawyer, Mary Howell, to his side. Dressed in coat and tie, he spoke for thirty seconds, reading from paper steadied in place atop a FedEx envelope. “I am thankful for having some closure after six long years of struggling for justice,” Lance said. “Without the support and hard work of my family, I might still be in prison
the Bartholomew family, Bartholomew v. The City of New Orleans et al., 2006, and separately by Jose Holmes Jr., Holmes v. City of New Orleans et al., 2006, provide further details. CHAPTER 4 An Officer, a Baby Due, a Choice Of the five officers prosecuted at trial, only Robert Faulcon Jr. took the stand. His testimony in USA v. Bowen et al. on July 27, 2011—describing his personal career arc, the challenges of patrolling New Orleans, and the unprecedented turmoil in the days after Hurricane