Shootings trial: Officer says man pointed a gun
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A police officer suspected of lying to the FBI about deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina claims she saw a man point an assault rifle at police and heard incoming gunfire, according to testimony Thursday at the trial of five current or former officers.
Officer Heather Gore didn't testify in person, but jurors heard a transcript of her July 2009 federal grand jury testimony, in which she claimed a man pointed a rifle at her and other officers who arrived at the Danziger Bridge in a rental truck.
Gore testified that two other officers chased the armed man over the bridge. She said she didn't fire her weapon at the man and doubted she could have identified him because she only looked at him for a "brief second."
"I didn't sit there and take pictures," Gore said as federal prosecutors pressed her for more details of what she saw.
Gore was one of several officers who piled into the rear of the rental truck and headed to the bridge in response to another officer's distress call less than a week after the 2005 storm hit.
Gore claimed she heard "pinging" noises on the side of the truck as they approached the bridge, leading her to believe somebody was shooting at them. She said it sounded like BB gun pellets hitting a tin can.
"It could only be (from) being shot at," she said. "What else could it be from?"
Gore, the last officer to leave the rear of the truck, also claimed she heard "outgoing and incoming fire" that made it sound like a "war zone."
"The officers didn't just go to the bridge and open fire," she testified. "We were shot at."
But prosecutors say police shot six unarmed people, killing two, and didn't recover any guns at the scene. Officers also are charged with engaging in a cover-up that included falsified reports, fabricated witnesses and a planted gun.
Gore isn't charged with any wrongdoing, but FBI Agent William Bezak testified last week that he believes she lied to protect Sgt. Robert Gisevius, a childhood friend who is one of the officers on trial. .
Gore said Bezak, during an interview, threatened her with losing her home and asked if she wanted to see her three teenage daughters grow up.
"I don't play that game," she said. "Basically, he called me a liar."
Prosecutors asked Gore why she waited more than a year to tell a superior officer what she saw. She said nobody from the department sought a statement from her in the months after the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings.
"I figured they had all their ducks in a row," she said.
Earlier Thursday, jurors heard a transcript of grand jury testimony by Lt. Bradley Tollefson, who arrived at the bridge after the shootings.
Tollefson claimed he overheard a man arrested in the aftermath of the shootings say he and his brother shot at people who were chasing and shooting at them on the bridge. Tollefson also claimed the man said he saw those same people shoot at police.
From a photograph, Tollefson identified that man as Morrell Johnson, a security guard who was briefly detained on the bridge but wasn't charged with any wrongdoing.
But Tollefson may have been confused about the man's identity because police arrested Lance Madison, whose 40-year-old, mentally disabled brother, Ronald, was shot and killed by police.
Madison was jailed for more than three weeks before a judge released him. A state grand jury later cleared him of attempted murder charges.
Tollefson isn't charged with any wrongdoing.