An embattled Louisiana sheriff was indicted this week by a federal grand jury following guilty pleas by eight former deputies from his department.
Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal is facing ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for ordering the beatings of five inmates at the notorious Iberia Parish Jail.
The eight former deputies pleaded guilty to the deprivation of civil rights stemming from at least two separate incidents involving the beating of inmates in a plea deal that protects them from future indictments in exchange for their testimony against the sheriff.
The department has been under fire since the Houdini suicide of Victor White III, said to have shot himself in the chest while handcuffed in the back of a deputy’s cruiser.
White’s death two years ago lead to an FBI probe of the department. The agency was also being investigated for two other incidents that occurred in the chapel of the jail, incidents that came to light after a whistleblower lawsuit was filed by former warden Wesley Hayes.
Ackal and Savoy were said to have ordered the assault of inmates and watched as deputies beat them with batons, forcing one inmate to simulate oral sex on the baton used to beat him.
The eight deputies who have already pleaded guilty are Robert E. Burns, Byron LaSalle, Wade Bergeron, Bret Broussard, Jason Comeaux and David Hines, former warden Wesley Hayes and Wesley’s brother Jesse Hayes.
Wesley Hayes is also the plaintiff in a whistleblower lawsuit he filed against the sheriff. The suit alleges Hayes was fired for trying to report problems occurring in the jail. His suit claims that he reported the criminal activity of at least two employees to supervisors who overlooked and failed to report the criminal activity of the deputies. Hayes’ lawsuit also describes an altercation between deputies and several inmates who were taken into a jail house chapel, with no surveillance, and beaten while Ackal and Savoy were present.
Hayes and brother Jesse were also named as defendants in a lawsuit filed after the in custody death of Michael Jones, an inmate who suffered from both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The suit listed five other defendants including nurse Stephanie Celestine, who failed to render aid to Jones before his death.
Jones died after an altercation with the Hayes brothers that began when Jones charged out of his cell and bit one of the deputies. The brothers, said to weigh a combined 700 pounds, sat on Jones to restrain him, according to other inmates who witnessed the assault.
The Advocate reports that the department has faced more than 30 lawsuits since Ackal became sheriff in 2008. The department has also paid out $1.1 million to settle at least ten of suits since the sheriff took office in 2008.
“At least six people, including five inmates, have died in Sheriff’s Office custody during that time. Documents examined by The Advocate — including complaints filed by inmates and settled civil lawsuits — allege a wide array of misconduct by Sheriff’s Office employees, ranging from excessive force used in routine arrests to an inmate beating that was so savage that guards slipped and fell in the victim’s blood.”
Missing from the list of guilty pleas and indictments was David Prejean who was fired last year after video surfaced of he and his K9 partner repeatedly attacking a inmate who lay face down on the floor of a common area in the jail, an incident that was covered by PINAC in May. Prejean is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the mother of the seventeen year old shown in the same Sugarcane Festival video that landed Laperousse in hot water.
It remains unclear if Sheriff Ackal, who was re-elected last year, will continue to serve out his term or resign.