Posted: Jul 8, 2011 4:52 PM
Source: Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS - A man whose mentally disabled brother was gunned down by police at the foot of a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina testified Friday that he believed teenagers were shooting at them before a truckload of officers arrived and opened fire - a recollection he now disavows.
Lance Madison, a government witness in the trial for five current or former officers charged in the shootings, said he thought he saw a teen holding a "dark object" that appeared to be a gun after shooting erupted on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the 2005 storm.
Madison stuck to that account even after police arrested him on attempted murder charges, accusing him of firing at officers before they shot and killed his 40-year-old brother, Ronald.
"I only had a split-second to look," said Madison, who was later cleared of the charges by a state grand jury.
Nearly six years later, however, Madison no longer believes civilians were firing at him and his brother that morning, when police shot and killed Madison and 17-year-old James Brissette and wounded four other people.
"They killed innocent people out there," he testified.
Federal prosecutors say none of the victims was armed, but defense lawyers claim officers were shot at before they returned fire.
Defense attorney Frank DeSalvo pressed Madison to explain why he initially told authorities he was certain he saw a teenager with a gun on the bridge but later testified before a state grand jury that he could have been mistaken. DeSalvo suggested state and federal prosecutors pressured him to change his story.
"Nothing was planted in my head," Madison said.
"That will be for the jury to decide," said DeSalvo, who represents Sgt. Kenneth Bowen.
When Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, Madison stayed to look after his brother, who wanted to care for his two dogs. After Lance Madison's home was flooded, they sought refuge at their oldest brother's dentist's office on the west side of the Danziger Bridge.
On the morning of Sept. 4, 2005, the Madisons crossed the bridge and headed to their mother's home in eastern New Orleans. Madison said they hoped to retrieve bicycles to help them evacuate, but they had to turn back because flood waters were too deep.
Madison recalled seeing a group of people behind him - a mix of adults and teens - as they approached the bridge on their way back to their brother's office. One of the teens ran past him, but not in a threatening way, just before the first shots rang out, Madison said.
"Run, Ronald! They're shooting at us!" Madison recalls shouting.
Halfway up the bridge, Madison turned again and saw a truck pull up. Men jumped out and started firing at him and his brother.
"We didn't know it was police," he said. "I thought it was a gang."
At the top of the bridge, Madison saw blood on his brother's shoulder. He said he grabbed Ronald and tried to help him along. Ronald shook his hand and told him to tell his family he loved them, Madison recalled.
"We just kept running," he said.
Madison said he left his wounded brother behind at the foot of the bridge so he could get help. On the west side of the bridge, former officer Robert Faulcon allegedly shot Ronald Madison in the back with a shotgun. Bowen is accused of stomping on the dying man's back.
Madison said he didn't see his brother get shot before he ran into a motel's flooded parking lot. He thought about trying to find cover in a room at the motel, but decided to keep running.
"I was afraid if I went in, I never would have come out alive," he said.
Madison said he didn't realize police officers were shooting at him and his brother until they apprehended him and accused him of shooting at police.
"I kept telling them that I was innocent," he said. "They told me shut up, they didn't want to hear it."
He said he begged them to get medical attention for his brother.
"They just ignored me," he said.
After police handcuffed him and loaded him into a truck, Madison recalled an officer saying, "I should have shot you. We wouldn't have to be going through this."
Madison was jailed for 25 days before a judge freed him.
"I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison," he said.
A report that police are accused of fabricating claims Lance Madison was seen throwing a handgun into the water under the bridge. Madison said neither he nor his brother had a gun that morning, adding that his brother had the mental capabilities of a young child and wouldn't have known how to use one.
"Your brother ran because you ran?" prosecutor Theodore Carter asked.
"Yes," Madison said.