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.

The only place in the Iberia Parish jail without a surveillance camera was its chapel, where five men have now admitted a number of inmates were beaten, with the accused admitting to either using their batons or watching other deputies engage in the assaults.

The admissions came to light Thursday when plea documents were filed into the public court record two days after a closed-door hearing in U.S. District Court in Lafayette.

At least four of the five current and former Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office employees who pleaded guilty to their roles in the beatings agreed to cooperate with future investigations in exchange for their immunity from additional charges, according to the plea agreements.

One of the men, Byron Lassalle, also admitted to conspiring with other Sheriff’s Office employees to lie during sworn testimony given in the civil rights lawsuits that followed. The admission brings into question the scope of that dishonesty in the nearly $1.1 million in settlements handed out to at least 10 plaintiffs since Sheriff Louis Ackal took office in 2008.

Ackal has not responded to The Advocate’s multiple requests for comment since the pleadings were made public on Tuesday, and he’s declined to speak with the publication since a reporter first published an account of the April 29, 2011, assault at the heart of this week’s guilty pleas.

Attorneys for those who pleaded were not immediately available Thursday evening.

Bills of information filed in their cases show Lassalle, Wade Bergeron, Bret Broussard, Wesley Hayes and Robert Burns all pleaded guilty to a count of civil rights deprivation during the April 2011 contraband sweep in which at least three inmates were assaulted with batons inside the chapel.

Bergeron, 40, who was a narcotics deputy at the time but is no longer a Sheriff’s Office employee, pleaded guilty to using his baton to beat one of the three inmates, but additional information on his involvement is unclear. His plea agreement is under seal.

Broussard, 35, who’s worked at the Sheriff’s Office since 2004 and serves as narcotics lieutenant, admitted to hearing other officers ask where they could take inmates out of the sight of a surveillance camera and admitted to looking on when the chapel beatings happened.

Burns, 46, who worked for the Sheriff’s Office from 2002 to 2013 and was a canine officer at the time of the chapel beatings, admitted to looking on, too, and commanding his dog to bark at an inmate “to further harass and intimidate them,” the plea agreement says.

Lassalle and Hayes also pleaded guilty to a count of civil rights conspiracy.

Lassalle, 34, “conspired to provide false testimony regarding the beatings during the depositions in order to conceal the prior assaults and in order to prevent any further investigation into the unlawful actions,” his plea agreement says. He also admitted to watching the beatings in the chapel. A page detailing his action against an inmate that made the man “gag” is missing from the court record.

Hayes, 36, who worked as the jail warden from 2009 to 2013, pleaded guilty to failing to intervene in the April 2011 incidents, including one in which an officer forced his baton into an inmate’s mouth while simulating fellatio. Hayes also admitted his guilt in a Sept. 27, 2011, incident in which he punched an inmate who had just assaulted an officer and looked on while a supervisor used his baton to strike the man in the testicles.

Records for Hayes’ brother, Jesse Hayes, 36, who pleaded guilty in Lake Charles on Thursday to one count of deprivation of civil rights for his role in an inmate beating, were not yet available for public inspection.

Sentencing is set May 24 for the five men who pleaded guilty Tuesday. It’s unclear when Jesse Hayes will be sentenced.

Each of the defendants who pleaded on Tuesday, except Burns, face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. Burns faces one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. They all face three years of supervised release.

All six men entered pleas before U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi, who’s based in Lake Charles.

Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.