Prosecution Rests in Danziger Trial

The article below originally appeared on the New Orleans Tribune/Tribune Talk website last week. The prosecution rested its case this week in the Danziger Bridge police violence trial with one final witness testimony, perhaps the most moving.

Lesha Bartholomew, who was 17 at the time of the incident, broke into quiet tears as she described seeing her mother wounded, with her arm nearly shot off. “She was saying Lord help us,” said Lesha, describing how she tried to shield her mother from the gunfire as they both lay behind a concrete barricade. “I got closer,” she added, “So she wouldn’t get shot again.”

Bartholomew’s testimony punctuated the last days of the prosecution’s case that were spent mostly on the testimony of FBI Agent William Bezak, who has been in charge of the FBI investigation of the case since January 2009.

As a so-called “summary witness,” Bezak laid out the government’s view of the shootings on Danziger Bridge and cover-up from beginning to end. Over the past two years, Agent Bezak interviewed nearly all witnesses associated with the case – including 75 NOPD officers – and reviewed what he said were thousands of pages of documents. As part of his testimony, the government also played an extended video from a television news crew that had been stationed nearby, and audio from a three-hour conversation between officers Jeffrey Lehrmann and Robert Gisevius. Officer Lehrmann, who has pleaded guilty to aiding in the cover-up, secretly recorded the conversation as part of his cooperation deal with the government.

On the profanity-filled audiotape, Gisevius repeatedly says that he thinks none of the officers who were on the bridge that day will “break” or “sing.” Lehrmann, tasked by the feds to get Gisevius to admit guilt, continually presses Gisevius on who will talk or not.

When Lehrmann tells Gisevius that the government has shown him the TV news video, Gisevius asks if the tape shows him “shooting people on the ground.” In the taped conversation, Gisevius also expresses scorn for the government, calling prosecuting attorney Bobbi Bernstein a “Jew” and a vulgar word associated with female genitals. On another part of the tape, Gisevius tells Lehrmann that he shouldn’t worry, because Kaufman took a lead in writing the reports. “You were his note-writing bitch,” says Gisevius. Speaking of another officer who hasn’t been charged, he adds, “Waguespack could be in as much trouble as anybody. He signed off on that shit.”

In nearly two days of cross examination, defense attorneys questioned the government policy of not tape-recording interviews, expressing doubt about the testimony Agent Bezak had gathered, most of which were based on his hand-written notes, and questioned his interpretation of the evidence. They also asked questions that implied the prosecution had avoid calling some key witnesses whose testimony would not go along with the state version of events. Among the key witnesses not called were officer Robert Barrios, who has already pleaded guilty for his role in the shootings, and Leonard Bartholomew III, who was shot several times on the bridge.

Lawyers for the defense began calling witnesses on the afternoon of Thursday, July 21. The trial is expected to last at least three to four more weeks.