Two more deputies pleaded guilty this week in a federal investigation of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, joining six others on the wrong side of a sweeping probe of abuse and cover-ups allegedly directed from high up the administrative chain.
The newest guilty pleas indicate the abuse stretched beyond the walls of the jail and involved at least two high-level officials who have not been named.
Deputies Jason Comeaux and David Hines pleaded guilty to civil rights violations late Monday, according to court filings not made public until Tuesday.
Comeaux admitted his involvement in the beating of inmate Anthony Daye on April 29, 2011, during a contraband sweep at the jail. Two other deputies already have pleaded guilty to witnessing Daye’s beating and doing nothing.
In a written summary of the incident filed into the court record, prosecutors said a “high-ranking” Sheriff’s Office official told Comeaux to take Daye for punishment to the jail’s chapel, a secluded area in the facility without video surveillance.
Once inside the chapel, prosecutors said, Comeaux and other deputies struck Daye with their fists and batons while the high-ranking official, who was not identified by name, stood and watched.
Prosecutors also said in court filings that Comeaux and others lied in depositions given in connection with a lawsuit filed by Daye.
Comeaux initially admitted his involvement in the beating to a senior Sheriff’s Office employee, according to prosecutors, but the unidentified senior employee told him to “fix” his story.
“The defendant and the other officers, in the presence of the senior IPSO employee, stuck with their false and misleading stories during their depositions in order to cover up the beating and to prevent further investigation into their conduct,” prosecutors said in court filings.
The prior guilty pleas in the case involved beatings in the jail’s chapel, but one of the pleas this week came from a deputy who said a person identified only as a “high-ranking” sheriff’s official sent him to an apartment in New Iberia to exact revenge.
Deputy David Hines told prosecutors he was directed to go find and assault a man identified as “R.T.” because the high-ranking Sheriff’s Office official believed the man had attacked one of his relatives, according to court records.
Hines admitted striking the man with his knee and his baton, then writing a false police report to justify the use of force, according to court records.
Sheriff Louis Ackal has not responded to repeated requests for comment since the first guilty pleas in the case last month, nor has his office responded to questions about the employment status of the officers who have entered guilty pleas.
Federal prosecutors have made no public statements about the investigation, and it is unclear how high the inquiry might rise. Also unclear is how the string of eight guilty pleas and the ongoing federal probe have affected operations at the Sheriff’s Office, which employs about 250 officers.
Ackal’s name has not been mentioned in any of the criminal court filings to date, but three inmates whom deputies have admitted beating and the former jail warden all say Ackal was present during a 2011 contraband sweep at the center of the case, though none put him at the jail chapel where the beatings took place.
The six deputies who pleaded guilty last month admitted either participating or observing without intervening in the abuse of four inmates at the jail.
Three of those inmates, including Daye, were beaten during an April 29, 2011, search for contraband, while a fourth inmate was struck by at least three guards on Sept. 27, 2011.
Daye said in a 2011 lawsuit that Ackal was at the jail the day before the April 29 sweep. With a group of inmates lined up, the sheriff approached Daye with a dog and whispered to him, “Please, move, because the dog has not bitten anyone in some time.”
Ackal returned with a team of deputies the next day and oversaw the contraband sweep, according to Daye’s lawsuit.
The inmates and others that the Iberia deputies admitted abusing are identified in the federal court filings only by their initials, but The Advocate matched the initials “A.D.” with Anthony Daye based on a lawsuit he filed alleging the same details and date of the beatings outlined in the criminal case.
The extent of the ongoing Iberia probe is unknown, but federal authorities also have an interest in at least two other incidents of alleged abuse at the jail.
Sheriff’s Office attorney Steve Elledge said in court documents filed last month that the U.S. Department of Justice, which also handled the guilty plea cases, is investigating the alleged abuse of inmate Whitney Paul Lee Jr., who has filed a lawsuit over alleged abuse at the jail in October 2014.
Elledge, in an attempt to have the lawsuit paused pending the federal investigation, wrote in court documents that a federal grand jury has subpoenaed all records related to the incident.
A federal grand jury already had subpoenaed a jail surveillance video from December 2012 that shows an inmate being attacked by a dog and then a deputy joining in to stomp and kick the man.
The Sheriff’s Office acknowledged in an interview last year that federal authorities were investigating the incident, which was one of several detailed in a report by The Advocate on inmate deaths and claims of abuse since Ackal took office in 2008.