A veteran New Orleans police officer was sentenced Thursday to almost 22 years in prison for the deadly beating of a handyman, while his rookie partner at the time was given nearly six years for helping cover up the crime.
The case was one of several Justice Department probes of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police officers, though the officers were the only ones prosecuted for actions before Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.
In an April trial, officer Melvin Williams was found guilty of violating Raymond Robair's constitutional rights by kicking and beating him with a baton in the city's Treme neighborhood on July 30, 2005.
Williams, who had been on the force for 16 years, was training officer Matthew Dean Moore when they were arresting Robair. Moore was found guilty of submitting a false report and lying to the FBI.
Williams broke four of Robair's ribs and crushed his spleen before the officers drove him to a hospital, where he died of massive internal bleeding, prosecutor said.
The officers' attorneys had tried to shift the blame for the 48-year-old's death to doctors who treated him for a heart attack for about 90 minutes before they discovered his spleen had ruptured.
The delay in treating Robair's ruptured spleen was because the officers lied to medical staff, telling them Robair was a "known drug user" whom they found under a bridge, prosecutors said.
The officers are expected to appeal their convictions and declined to say anything after the hearing.
Williams' attorney, Frank DeSalvo, said his client's sentence was "unreasonable and excessive."
Moore's lawyer, Edward Castaing, said the officers took Robair to the hospital, which was "not the sign of someone who wants to do harm."
The officers were suspended without pay following their convictions.
Robair's daughter, Judonna Mitchell, said he did not die in vain.
"Raymond's death exposed the crimes of these officers, and we feel that Raymond has now brought justice for many families within our community," she said.
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