Doubts Now Surround Account of Snipers Amid New
By James Rainey
Times Staff Writer
Angeles Times" -- -- NEW ORLEANS — Even in the
desperate days after Hurricane Katrina, the news flash seemed
particularly sensational: Police had caught eight snipers on a
bridge shooting at relief contractors. In the gun battle that
followed, officers shot to death five or six of the marauders.
Exhausted and emotionally drained police cheered the news that their
comrades had stopped the snipers and suffered no losses, said an
account in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. One officer said the
incident showed the department's resolve to take back the streets.
But nearly three months later — and after repeated revisions of the
official account of the incident and a lowering of the death toll to
two — authorities said they were still trying to reconstruct what
happened Sept. 4 on the Danziger Bridge. And on the city's east
side, where the shootings occurred, two families that suffered
casualties are preparing to come forward with stories radically
different from those told by police.
A teenager critically wounded that day, speaking about the incident
for the first time, said in an interview that police shot him for no
reason, delivering a final bullet at point-blank range with what he
thought was an assault rifle. Members of another family said one of
those killed was mentally disabled, a childlike innocent who made a
rare foray from home in a desperate effort to find relief from the
The two families — one from New Orleans East and solidly middle
class, the other poorer and rooted in the Lower 9th Ward — have
offered only preliminary information about what they say happened
that day. Large gaps remain in the police and civilian accounts of
News of the Danziger Bridge shootings roared across cable television
for a time. But as with many overblown reports of crime and violence
immediately after the hurricane, the facts remain elusive.
The final findings seem likely to become a provocative centerpiece
in assessments of the New Orleans Police Department's performance in
the hurly-burly days after Katrina.
Many officers remained at their posts during and after the storm.
Despite losing their patrol cars and running out of ammunition, they
improvised to keep assisting in relief efforts. But others abetted
the lawlessness — abandoning their posts or joining in the looting.
As in all officer-involved shootings in New Orleans, the Police
Department has undertaken a review and is expected to turn its
findings over to the district attorney's office in the next few
weeks. Police Department spokesman Marlon Defillo said it was not
unusual that the suspects had given a divergent view of the
shootings. But he said homicide investigators would take all
accounts seriously, a position reiterated by the office of Dist.
Atty. Eddie Jordan.
"We are looking at everyone's involvement," said Leatrice Dupre, the
district attorney's spokeswoman. She said the investigation "may
find that the police were unjust in this shooting. Or it may not. We
just don't know."
Today, a late-autumn chill has descended on New Orleans, signaling
the end of hurricane season, at last. The Danziger Bridge stands
mostly quiet, with an occasional car or truck crossing to and from
New Orleans East neighborhoods left in ruins.
On Sept. 4, it was different. The half-mile-long span delivers the
Chef Menteur Highway over the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal and into
the city's east side. As a high and dry ridge in the middle of
inundated neighborhoods, the highway became a magnet for evacuees.
A small dose of order had emerged in parts of New Orleans on that
Sunday morning, with the National Guard deployed in force and
evacuations underway at the teeming Superdome and Convention Center.
But before 9 a.m., the police reported snipers shooting from the
bridge. Initial accounts given to the media by Deputy Police Chief
W.J. Riley had the targets as 14 civilian contractors, part of a
convoy that drove to the area to help with storm repairs.
But in a measure of the confusion and poor communication that
prevailed, another police official gave a different account.
"Five men who were looting exchanged gunfire with police. The
officers engaged the looters when they were fired upon," killing
four, said Steven Nichols, the police official, according to the
Reuters news agency.
In the following weeks, the official account would be modified
again. It turned out, police said, that only two of the suspects had
Although not disclosed by police, one of the dead was the mentally
retarded man, 40-year-old Ronald Madison, family and friends said.
The other was a 19-year-old man. Four others were injured: Leonard
Bartholomew, 44; his wife, Susan, 39; their daughter, Leisha, 17;
and their nephew, Jose Holmes Jr., 19.
A month after the shootings, the Police Department issued a
statement giving its most complete account. It said that seven
officers had responded to a call, not from contractors but from two
officers "down." The statement said a sheriff's deputy from a
neighboring parish had requested backup because of "gunfire from
several persons on the same bridge" — shots directed at relief
workers in boats.
Lance Madison and his brother Ronald walked to the highway that
morning. But family and friends insist that they couldn't be further
from the profile of those who would shoot at police.
Lance Madison, 49, had played football at Southern University, a
wide receiver who had a chance at the pros before settling into a
career with Federal Express, his relatives said. Ronald Madison,
nearly a decade younger, had been mentally disabled since birth. He
seldom ventured beyond the tidy family home on Lafon Drive, where he
lived with his mother, 1 1/2 miles east of the bridge.
Ronald had a childlike demeanor and was best remembered in the
neighborhood of well-kept homes for endlessly walking the family
dog, Bobby, up and down the block. Neighbors said if they needed to
borrow milk or a cup of sugar, Ronald liked to deliver it, usually
at a dead run.
Another brother, Raymond Madison, was also mentally disabled. "They
were very clean and very polite and everything like that," said
Louis Bart, who last week was cleaning out a home across the street
from the Madisons'. "They were grown men but they wouldn't hurt a
A fourth Madison brother, Romell, is a dentist and a prominent
community figure who has served on several state commissions, mostly
involving healthcare. He said that his brothers, after being
stranded for several days on the roof of Lance's apartment building
in New Orleans East, were trying to reach his office on the Chef
Menteur Highway. To get there they had to cross the Danziger Bridge.
But when they were nearing their destination, gun-toting teenagers
shot at the brothers and sent them running, Lance testified at a
September preliminary hearing.
"We ran for our lives," Lance told a judge at the hearing, where he
faced eight felony counts for the attempted murder of eight police
officers. The brothers escaped only to encounter another group of
men — assembled at the west end of the bridge.
Police officers in those unsteady days appeared far from standard
issue. Many were out of uniform, and some carried their own "toys" —
hunting rifles, AK-47s, carbines — one officer said in an earlier
interview. Their police pistols had become useless when they ran out
The police said Lance Madison had fired on officers then fled,
heaving his gun into the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, known
locally as the Industrial Canal, which connects the Mississippi
River and Lake Pontchartrain.
Chief Orleans Parish Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen, who presided at
the preliminary hearing, said he found it "hard to believe" that
Madison would have been shooting at anyone that day.
In the police statement on the incident, Ronald is not named. It
says only that the "suspect" accompanying Lance fled to a motel
about a block from the west end of the bridge. "The suspect reached
into his waist and turned toward the officer," the statement said,
"who fired one shot fatally wounding him."
Despite the judge's skepticism, he did not dismiss charges against
Lance Madison, who still faces attempted murder charges — one count
for each of the seven New Orleans police and one for the sheriff's
deputy on the scene. He is free on bail but is not speaking about
the case, on advice from his lawyer, Nathan Fisher.
Dressed in his green dentist's scrubs at the end of one recent
workday, Romell Madison said his family was anxious to tell the full
story — once the lawyer gives the OK.
"It will be worth a movie," he said. "The truth will come out at the
end of this."
Members of the Bartholomew family, driven out of the Lower 9th Ward
by the flooding, also arrived at the bridge that morning. They had
evacuated to the higher ground of the Chef Menteur Highway and found
two rooms at a Family Inns of America motel.
Instead of refuge, however, the 10 relatives found themselves packed
into the motel with drug addicts, prostitutes and criminals. Gunfire
rang out regularly, they said.
"A lot of people were running past us with guns and robbing people
in the hotel and stuff," said Jontae Holmes, 16, a niece of the
Bartholomews. "Then the generators got messed up and the lights
started going off. It was scary."
Six days after the storm hit, Jontae said, her aunt and uncle
crossed the bridge to retrieve a wallet they had left at home. Susan
and Leonard Bartholomew hoped to catch a rescue boat to navigate the
still-flooded streets, the teenager said.
The Bartholomews' nephew, Jose Holmes Jr., 19, went along, as did
one of his friends, another 19-year-old, who planned to search for
his missing mother, Holmes said. Several other family members
remained at the motel.
Police said Jose Holmes and his friend were among a group of "at
least four suspects" near the east end of the bridge who began
shooting at officers. When police returned fire, they said, the
shooters jumped over a concrete barrier to a pedestrian walkway
along the north side of the span. The suspects continued firing from
behind the barrier, the police said.
On the day he was released from the West Jefferson Medical Center
last week, Jose Holmes Jr. insisted that was not how it happened.
Speaking haltingly, just above a whisper and nodding to answer some
questions, the 108-pound teenager continued to move slowly after 10
weeks in the hospital.
The teenager said he was "just walking" with his family and his
friend when gunfire erupted behind them.
"It was loud, real loud. After we heard the gunshots, we just
started running," said Holmes, who displayed wounds to his arm,
neck, chin and stomach. "Then we hopped over into a little walkway."
Holmes said he was down and badly wounded when one of the men
approached, put an assault rifle to his stomach and pulled the
trigger. He said he didn't get a good look at the shooters.
"They came up real close, real close," Holmes said, adding that he
was too terrified to look up. "They was trying to kill us."
A colostomy bag now drains Holmes' bowels. His left forefinger and
thumb are frozen. Doctors told him the hand had nerve damage.
Leonard, Susan and Leisha Bartholomew were also wounded by the
police. Susan lost an arm to what the family believed was a shotgun
Relatives said all three — who evacuated to Texas after their
hospital stays — were too traumatized to talk about the incident.
The preliminary conclusion of the investigation is that none of the
three Bartholomews was carrying a gun that day, said police
spokesman Defillo. But their nephew, Jose Holmes, who has moved into
his father's Georgia home, is suspected of targeting the police. He
will be charged with attempted murder and possibly other crimes
"imminently," Defillo said.
The police spokesman said the snipers' weapons were found at the
scene, although he said he did not know what type of guns they were.
Authorities have not identified the other man killed by police that
day. But Holmes said it was his friend.
"Out of anger, frustration, no leadership, the police just went
berserk," said Jose Holmes Sr. on the day he brought his son home
from the hospital.
Defillo said police would investigate claims by both sides. He
rejected earlier accounts that officers had celebrated the bloody
"I was there and I didn't hear anybody cheering," Defillo said. "No
one was in the mood to be cheering about anything. We were rescuing
people, dealing with the loss of two police officers who committed
suicide and [coping] with 85% of our police officers being homeless.
I didn't see joy then. I still haven't seen it."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Two views of the bridge shootings
New Orleans police say they shot and killed two snipers who fired
from the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4. The Bartholomew and Madison
families say they did nothing to threaten police and were looking
for relief and refuge after Hurricane Katrina when the police opened
Bartholomew family's version: The Bartholomews walked from a Family
Inns of America motel to the bridge. When they were about 100 yards
onto the bridge, police began shooting. They dove over a concrete
barrier to a pedestrian walkway for protection.
New Orleans police version: Police accuse Jose Holmes Jr., 19, a
Bartholomew nephew, of being one of the snipers. Police say the
shooters used the concrete barrier for protection and continued
firing. A friend of Holmes, also 19, was killed.
Madison family's version: Lance Madison said he and his brother
Ronald, who was mentally disabled, were crossing the bridge to reach
the safety of a dental office owned by their brother Romell. Family
and friends said Ronald Madison posed no threat to police.
New Orleans police version: Police say Lance Madison shot at them
and then dumped his gun into the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal.
Police say they chased Ronald Madison, shooting and killing him when
he made a threatening motion in a motel parking lot near the west
end of the bridge.
Sources: Times reporting, ESRI, TeleAtlas
Copyright Los Angeles Times
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