Iberia Parish Cops Nailed For Years Of Giving Beatdowns In Church
Mar. 25, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — When Iberia Parish, Louisiana deputies told people that they are about to have a “Come to Jesus” moment, they were serious. They have an old school way of communicating with prisoners in Iberia Parish.
So far this year, eight Iberia Parish Sheriff’s employees and officers have pleaded guilty to federal charges of abusing the civil rights of prisoners by taking them to the jail chapel and beating them. The reason for the chapel being the location for the beatings was it was the only place in the jail that did not have security cameras.
The eight are jail warden Wesley Hayes; assistant warden Jesse Hayes; narcotics unit lieutenant Bret Broussard; narcotics agents Wade Bergeron, Jason Comeaux, David Hines, and Benjamin Lassalle; and K-9 handler Robert Burns. All are now former employees and face up to ten years in prison.
The beatings were allegedly at the direction of Sheriff Louis Ackal and Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Savoy, who have been indicted for federal civil rights violations and conspiracy.
Ackal, who has been Sheriff since 2008 and is a retired State Police captain, has refused to resign and stated that he will be vindicated. In the meantime, Savoy is on administrative leave.
All of this is part of a long-term pattern of abuse at the Sheriff’s Office. In 2009, Michael Jones died while in custody of the Sheriff, after Wesley and Jess Hayes sat on him to restrain him during a fight at the jail. The Hayes brothers, whose combined weight is over 700 pounds, also moonlight as tag-team wrestlers under the name Bayou Boys.
In 2011, Robert Sonnier, a 62-year-old man who thought he would have a vision of Jesus at a local church, was arrested and placed in jail. Sonnier had suffered two heart attacks and a stroke, had endured several back surgeries, and walked with a cane. He also took a prescribed painkiller and Xanex for anxiety, but jail staff told his wife that he couldn’t have those meds in jail. So naturally, he wigged out, ended up tied to a restraint chair, where he defecated on himself and continued the downward spiral. Eventually he was struck by a jailer (while “assaulting” the jailer, which I assume means that he looked at the jailer while drooling), was knocked back onto the concrete floor where he suffered a massive head injury.
Sonnier was airlifted to a hospital in New Orleans, where he died. He was no longer in custody, as the Sheriff’s office convinced a judge to “release” him once he was transferred to the hospital. Iberia Parish paid the family over $450,000 to settle the wrongful death lawsuit, but insisted on a confidentiality clause.
In that same time, the feds are looking at a video from 2012 where a K-9 handler threw Marcus Robicheaux on the ground and set his dog on him while he kicked the inmate. The handler, deputy David Prejean, has subsequently been fired. Prejean also has several excessive force lawsuits that have been filed against him.
In 2014, Victor White III, a 22-year-old black man, was in the back of a Sheriff’s squad car, handcuffed. He committed “suicide” by shooting himself. Supposedly White was patted down twice before being placed in the squad car and being driven to the jail, where he refused to get out of the car, took out a gun that was missed in the search, and then shot himself in the chest while handcuffed with his hands behind him.
Currently, the feds are investigating this too, but I can tell you that there is no way that someone who was patted down twice and handcuffed (with his hands behind his back) to be able to shot himself in the chest.
Iberia Parish is about half the size of Lafayette Parish, just to the north, but has paid out settlements that are twice the size of the amount paid by their neighbor. Six people have been killed while in the sheriff’s custody. According to PACER, Ackal has been named as a party in federal court about twenty times.
Look, I know that a sheriff will be named in a lot of lawsuits. It goes with the territory. But I also know that twenty cases in eight years is totally out of whack. And averaging one in-custody death a year for a parish of 73,000 population?
Occam’s razor provides the likely answer: The department is full of thugs who wear badges.
It’s that simple.
Thugs who have one way to communicate.
Old school. The problem is that old school is illegal. It isn’t allowed anymore.
But when you have a culture of police beat-downs, of no accountability or professionalism at a department, there is only one real way to fix it. You arrest and prosecute everyone you can prove committed a crime, preferably in federal court.
You fire everyone else.
Then you start over, bringing in people from the outside. With civilian oversight. And you watch them like a hawk.
And the “Come to Jesus” meetings are now for employees who step over the line.