NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A federal jury found four New Orleans police officers guilty on Friday of charges related to the shooting deaths of civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a subsequent cover-up.
The jury stopped short of calling the shootings murder, declining to convict on accusations the killings were intentional.
The officers faced up to 25 counts each for their role in the September 4, 2005 shootings that left two dead and four others seriously injured.
A fifth officer was convicted of helping the others cover the incident up.
"Today's verdict sends a powerful, a powerful unmistakable message," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, speaking to reporters outside the New Orleans courthouse.
The decision means the deaths of Ronald Madison and James Brissette were the result of police willfully violating their civil rights, but that police did not arrive at the scene with the intent to murder the victims.
In the death of Brissette and shooting of four others, officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and Anthony Villavaso were found guilty of depriving citizens of their rights, and using firearms in the deprivation of those rights.
In addition, Faulcon, the only defendant who testified at trial, was found guilty of violating civil rights and use of a firearm in the killing of Madison.
They were also convicted of various charges connected with the cover-up, including conspiracy to obstruct justice and violate civil rights, and false prosecution.
The fifth officer, retired homicide detective Arthur "Archie" Kaufman, was convicted on 10 counts related to the cover-up, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, fabricating witnesses, falsifying victim statements, misleading federal investigators, and falsifying evidence.
All the officers potentially face life in prison over the convictions.
The jury of five women and seven men arrived at its verdict after more than two days of deliberations.
A sixth officer who was charged along with Kaufman for orchestrating a cover-up will be tried separately.
While prosecutors painted a picture of out-of-control cops firing indiscriminately on innocent bystanders, defense lawyers maintained throughout the trial that officers saw guns in the hands of civilians and believed they were in danger.
They said chaotic conditions in New Orleans after Katrina heightened police officers' expectations that civilians in the streets had and would use guns.
(Reporting by Kathy Finn; Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Jerry Norton)