01/27/2012 11:15 pm ET Updated Mar 28, 2012

Hurricane Katrina Police Shooting On Danziger Bridge: Mistrial Declared In Gerard Dugue Case

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS, Jan 27 (Reuters) - A federal judge declared a mistrial on Friday in the case of a retired police detective accused of conspiring to cover up wrongdoing in fatal police shootings in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a lawyer for the officer said.

Gerard Dugue was accused of obstructing justice, lying to the FBI and violating the civil rights of two people by writing false police reports about the September 2005 shooting.

Two unarmed civilians were killed by police in the incident on the Danziger Bridge as much of the city was under water from flooding in the chaotic days following the storm.

Dugue was not directly involved in the shootings but took up the investigation a few months later.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt granted the mistrial after a prosecutor mentioned a separate case that involved the defendant while questioning Dugue on the witness stand, according to the Times-Picayune newspaper.

The trial, which began on Monday, was to be the final proceeding against a group of police officers charged in connection with the shootings.

A federal jury last summer convicted five officers on 22 counts of violating the civil rights of innocent people and obstructing justice. They face potential sentences that range up to life in prison.

Ronald Madison, 40, and James Brissette, 17, were killed, and four others were seriously injured on the bridge after the New Orleans police officers responded to a call about gunfire.

While prosecutors painted a picture of out-of-control officers firing indiscriminately at innocent bystanders, defense lawyers maintained that officers saw guns and believed they were in danger.

Five other officers pleaded guilty to participating in the shootings or cover-up and were sentenced to terms of three to eight years. Most of them testified for the prosecution during the 2011 trial, and some also this week in Dugue's trial.

The trial opened on Monday and had been expected to last about two weeks. (Reporting By Kathy Finn; Writing by Corrie MacLaggan and Cynthia Johnston)