Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under scrutiny for treatment of inmates, others in custody _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The Iberia Parish Jail in New Iberia.

More indictments are a “very real possibility” in the apparently widening probe into abuse at the hands of Iberia Parish sheriff’s deputies, according to court filings Tuesday by Sheriff’s Office attorneys.

Eight deputies have pleaded guilty since February in the investigation, and a federal grand jury this month indicted Sheriff Louis Ackal and one of his top supervisors, Lt. Col. Gerald Savoy.

Most of the federal charges involve allegations of the beating of inmates during an April 2011 contraband sweep at the jail and a subsequent cover-up.

But federal authorities have a keen interest in a separate jail sweep on Oct. 10, 2014, according to court documents the Sheriff’s Office filed Tuesday in an attempt to put on hold a lawsuit filed against Ackal and deputies Lucas Plauche and Lester Hebert over alleged abuse during the sweep.

Sheriff’s Office attorney Fred Schroeder wrote that a federal grand jury last year subpoenaed several records related to the incident and FBI agents are interviewing witnesses.

The attorney wrote the potential for additional indictments “is a very real possibility.”

“The DOJ (Department of Justice) investigation of all defendants remains ongoing. It is possible that additional charges may be brought against the sheriff and also that defendants Plauche and Hebert may be indicted as well,” Schroeder wrote.

The Sheriff’s Office wants to suspend action in the lawsuit filed over the 2014 sweep while the criminal investigation plays out.

No ruling has been made on the request.

A magistrate judge denied a similar request earlier this year, but that decision was made before the guilty pleas of eight deputies and the indictment of Ackal and Savoy.

The federal lawsuit was filed by Whitney Paul Lee Jr., who alleged he was offering no resistance when Plauche hit him six times in the leg with a baton and then Hebert shot him in the leg with a “bean bag round,” a nonlethal shotgun round similar to a rubber bullet.

Lee also alleged he saw deputies hit another inmate who was compliant and offering no resistance.

Lee does not allege Ackal was at the jail but accuses him of failing to address a long pattern of abuse the facility.

Ackal has not responded directly to requests from The Advocate for comment on the federal investigation, but he recently issued a statement to other media outlets maintaining his innocence.

“In spite of recent allegations made against me, I am confident I will be vindicated,” Ackal wrote.

In the recent indictment against Ackal, prosecutors allege he directed deputies to assault five inmates — three in connection with a lewd comment to a deputy, one for writing letters complaining about jail conditions and a fifth for no stated reason — during the April 2011 sweep at jail and was present for at least one of the beatings.