Trial opens for cops charged in Katrina shootings

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN | June 27, 2011 | 1:30 PM EDT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal prosecutor says New Orleans police officers decided to "shoot first and ask questions later" when they shot to death two unarmed people and wounded four others on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

But lawyers for five current or former officers charged in the shootings told jurors Monday that police feared for their lives and were justified in using deadly force.

In their opening statements for the trial, prosecution and defense attorneys painted vastly different pictures of the encounter between police and storm victims on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the 2005 hurricane.

Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein said police plotted to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports to cover up "atrocities." Defense lawyers said the officers acted reasonably under dangerous circumstances.