[JURIST] A New Orleans judge on Wednesday threw out indictments against the so-called "Danziger Seven" [advocacy website], police officers accused of murder in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive]. District Judge Raymond Bigelow ruled that prosecutors had violated state law by revealing grand jury testimony to a witness in the case and had also issued incorrect instructions to the grand jury. The "Danziger Seven" were so named because of allegations that they shot mentally handicapped Ronald Madison [NDA resolution] as he crossed the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans to escape gunfire. Police say that Madison moved as if to pull out a gun just before they opened fire, but these statements were contradicted by autopsy results [CNN report] showing Madison had been shot in the back. Parish District Attorney Robert L. Freeman, Jr. said that prosecutors might appeal the decision [press statement]. CBC News has more.
New Orleans police faced intense criticism for their behavior after Katrina. Many have been accused of both brutality and deserting their posts [JURIST report]. US federal prosecutions and convictions of law enforcement officers for alleged brutality have significantly increased in recent years, it was reported last year [USA Today report]. Unspecified Department of Justice statistics indicated that prosecutions for the use of excessive force or other violations of victims' civil rights had risen 25 percent from 224 to 281 in 2001-2007 compared to the previous seven-year period. In a 1998 report [HRW materials] Human Rights Watch called police brutality "one of the most serious and divisive human rights violations in the United States." HRW maintains an archive of letters and press releases from advocacy groups on the subject, and in 2006 raised concerns over prisons affected by Hurricane Katrina [letter].