Ex-cop gets prison for Katrina shootings cover-up

October 5, 2011 - 6:55 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal prosecutor asked for leniency Wednesday for two former police officers who pleaded guilty to helping cover up deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina, but a pair of judges rejected those requests.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman sentenced Ignatius Hills to 6 1/2 years in prison for his role in the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge shootings, in which police shot and killed two people and wounded four others less than a week after the 2005 storm.

Justice Department prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein had recommended a four-year prison sentence for Hills, but Feldman said Hills already has been sufficiently rewarded for cooperating and testifying against five other current or former officers who were convicted in August of civil rights violations stemming from the shootings.

Earlier Wednesday, a different judge refused to reduce an eight-year prison sentence for Michael Hunter, a former officer who also pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shootings.

U.S District Judge Sarah Vance rejected Bernstein's request to cut Hunter's sentence to five years. Vance, who had sentenced Hunter in December, said he could have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years in prison if he had been convicted at trial.

"Eight years is generous and five years is way too low," the judge said.

The judge said she didn't believe Hunter's testimony that he had fired above — not at — two men running away from him on the bridge.

Bernstein said Hunter's actions were "horrible" and "inexcusable," but he didn't try to minimize his conduct.

"I feel very confident in saying that justice would not and could not have happened without the cooperation we got from Mr. Hunter," she said.

Hills pleaded guilty last year to misprision of a felony and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He testified that he had fired two shots at the back of a fleeing teenager because he was scared.

Feldman questioned why Hills deserves four years in prison when Anthony Villavaso, one of the officers convicted at trial, was accused of similar conduct on the bridge and faces at least 35 years.

"They both shot at someone. They both missed. They both lied," Feldman said.

Bernstein said Hills, unlike Villavaso, took responsibility for his actions.

"The truth would never have come out if not for the deals we made with cooperators," she said.

Hunter, who reported to a federal prison in Bastrop, Texas, last Friday, was sentenced to the maximum prison term for pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and misprision of a felony. His wife, Natasha, wiped away tears as Vance issued her ruling.

The five current or former officers convicted at trial haven't been sentenced yet.

Hills must report to prison by Oct. 17.