Sheriff Louis Ackal trial

Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal was found not guilty on all of the four counts he was being charged with following his trial at the US District Court in Shreveport, La.

Douglas Collier

Seven former deputies who agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in a broad federal probe of abuse and coverup in the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office were sentenced yesterday in a case that missed its main target: Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Ackal was acquitted at trial last year, but 10 of his deputies admitted to wrongdoing, and some of them agreed to take the witness stand to testify against their former boss on allegations that Ackal oversaw a department tainted by a culture of abuse.

The seven deputies sentenced Tuesday received prison terms ranging from six months to more than 4 years behind bars.

It was a task that clearly pained U.S. District Judge Donald Walter, who lamented that poor decisions by a few officers can tarnish the image of a noble profession.

"In over 30 years on the bench, I have never liked sentencing, and these are the worst," the judge said. "... The best I can say is you had lousy leadership. I'm restrained to say anything further."

The stiffest sentences were handed down in the cases of former narcotics officers Byron Benjamin Lassalle and Bret Broussard, both of whom received prison terms of four-and-half years.

The sentences of the other former deputies were: Wade Bergeron, 48 months; David Hines, 40 months; Jason Comeaux, 40 months; Jeremy Hatley, 36 months and Robert Burns, six months.

The trial is pending for an 11th deputy who did not plead guilty, Mark Frederick, and three of the deputies who pleaded guilty had their sentencing hearings delayed because they are possible witnesses in the pending case.

Most of the seven deputies sentenced on Tuesday were accused of participating in inmate beatings at the Iberia Parish jail or roughing up suspects on the street. Some admitted to lying or altering records to cover-up the abuse.

In testimony at last year's trial, deputies said it was all done at the direction of Ackal, who prosecutors alleged was physically present while at least one inmate was beaten during a 2011 contraband sweep at the Iberia Parish jail.

When recalling the incident at Ackal's trial, Comeaux said Ackal pointed to the inmate and said, "I'm the f****** sheriff, and I want him taken care of," before following deputies into the chapel and looking on during the assault.

"He was the boss and he ordered it and he came in with us," Comeaux said.

Deputies talked of routinely being called on to "clear the streets" in some neighborhoods, roughing up anyone who was not inside their home.

One group of deputies admitted getting drunk and beating up two young black men for no reason.

Incident reports were doctored to cover up abuse. Internal affairs records were destroyed.

Lassalle admitted making an inmate mimic oral sex on his baton and then striking the man with his baton during the 2011 contraband sweep at the jail. He also admitted to repeatedly striking another inmate as he knelt on the chapel floor.

At the sentencing hearing on Tuesday, he pleaded for leniency.

"All the good I did at the Sheriff's Office was ruined once I obeyed Sheriff Ackal's orders," Lassalle said.

Prosecutor Mark Blumberg told the judge that despite the abuse he dished out, the former deputy's cooperation was key in the investigation.

"He took on a role to bring some daylight ... to what was a very dark place at the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office," Blumberg said.

Ackal, who was elected to a third term in 2015, denied any wrongdoing in the case, pointing the finger at a group of rogue deputies who operated beyond his control and lied to supervisors to cover-up their tracks.

KATC-TV contributed to this report.

Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.​