After ordering unlawful beatings on compliant inmates and pretrial detainees, a Louisiana sheriff and a lieutenant colonel were arrested this week and charged with participating in a prisoner abuse conspiracy under the color of law. Eight former Iberia Parish Sheriff Office (IPSO) employees have previously entered guilty pleas in related abuse cases.
On April 29, 2011, Iberia Parish Jail (IPJ) Warden Wesley Hayes called Sheriff Louis Ackal to request assistance during a shakedown of the jail. After arriving with members of his narcotics unit to search for contraband, the sheriff thought he heard a detainee named Curtis Ozenne make a lewd comment on the recreation yard. In the presence of Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Savoy, a supervisor at IPSO, the sheriff ordered narcotics agent Byron Benjamin Lassalle to “take care of” Ozenne.
When Lassalle asked the warden where he could find a place inside the jail without any security cameras, Hayes responded, “the chapel.” After they escorted Ozenne to the chapel, narcotics agent Jason Comeaux placed handcuffs on the compliant detainee before beating him with a nightstick. As the sheriff allegedly threatened to use a K-9 on Ozenne, the terrified detainee blamed another inmate identified as S.S. for the lewd comment.
After escorting S.S. to the chapel, Lassalle also beat him with a nightstick in front of the other officers. Upon learning that S.S. was in jail for a sex offense, Lassalle held his baton between his legs and forced it into S.S.’s mouth, causing him to choke. Under duress, S.S. blamed a third inmate identified as A.T. for making the lewd comment on the recreation yard. Although A.T. was compliant and not posing a threat, he was also taken to the chapel and beaten with a baton while the officers watched.
During that same day, the sheriff learned that an inmate identified as H.G. had written letters complaining about conditions at the jail. After escorting H.G. and another inmate named Anthony Daye into the chapel, the officers attacked the compliant detainees with their batons. While the officers assaulted the inmates, Lt. Col. Savoy ordered K-9 handler Robert Burns to intimidate them with his police dog.
According to Daye’s 2011 lawsuit, the sheriff had also appeared at the jail on the previous day to threaten and harass several inmates on April 28, 2011. After having the detainees strip down to their boxers, the sheriff placed a police dog behind Daye and told him, “Don’t move, or the dog will get you.”
After 20 minutes of intimidation, Ackal whispered to Daye, “Please move because the dog hasn’t bitten anyone in a long time.”
Eight former IPSO employees have entered guilty pleas in related prisoner abuse cases for either participating in or covering up the unlawful beatings. Former IPJ Warden Wesley Hayes, former IPJ Assistant Warden Jesse Hayes, former Lt. Bret Broussard of the Narcotics Unit, former narcotics agent Wade Bergeron, former narcotics agent Jason Comeaux, former narcotics agent David Hines, former narcotics agent Byron Benjamin Lassalle, and former K-9 handler Robert Burns have previously pleaded guilty for their involvement in the jail beatings.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced indictments against Sheriff Ackal and Lt. Col. Savoy. Ackal is charged with one count of conspiracy against rights and two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, while Savoy is charged with one count of conspiracy against rights and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law. If convicted, Ackal and Savoy face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each of the civil rights violations, as well as a potential $250,000 fine for each count.