A former inmate at the Iberia Parish Jail told The Acadiana Advocate that a 2011 contraband sweep in the Iberia Parish Jail ended with a deputy forcing the inmate to simulate oral sex on him, an account that closely matches affidavits and complaints filed earlier by two others.
The former inmate said he was interviewed by federal agents in January as part of an ongoing federal probe of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office. The Advocate does not identify victims of sexual assault, and the newspaper is not identifying him both because of the nature of the alleged attack and because the inmate spoke on condition of anonymity.
The man, who spoke to a reporter through letters, is now serving time in state prison.
The inmate says the abuse he suffered came at the hands of a current Sheriff’s Office employee. He has not filed a complaint against that officer. He also says he saw officers assault Curtis Ozenne, a former prisoner who recently settled a civil case against the troubled law enforcement agency.
The FBI did not respond to requests for comment. But his story lines up with detailed allegations of abuse that previously had been revealed in court documents, including sworn affidavits and civil complaints. It is one of several incidents, sources tell The Advocate, that are being examined by federal investigators.
“There’s not a day that goes by that this has not messed with my head,” the inmate said. “I’ve had nightmares and nights that I couldn’t sleep at all because it was weighing on my mind. Especially that there wasn’t going to be anything done about it.”
April 29, 2011
In 2011, the inmate was partway through a two-year sentence at the Iberia Parish Jail for failing to report a change of address. The offense stemmed from a 2003 conviction in a different parish for carnal knowledge of a juvenile.
He said he spent most of his incarceration as a trustee, working on the jail’s maintenance crew or in the auto shop. He had a good rapport with staff, he said, “because I didn’t cause problems, nor did I violate the rules.”
On April 29, 2011, according to court documents and the inmate, Sheriff Louis Ackal came to the jail with his IMPACT team, a unit often used to respond to critical situations, such as contraband sweeps in the jail.
“The majority of the violence came from the ‘IMPACT team,’ as directed from the sheriff,” the inmate said. “The members of the IMPACT team were the sheriff’s handpicked guys that would do his bidding in the jail and out of it also.”
After some inmates resisted efforts to search one of the jail’s pods, deputies took several prisoners, including the inmate and Ozenne, to the jail’s recreation yard and ordered them to kneel with their faces against the wall.
Members of the IMPACT team claimed they had heard Ozenne call them vulgar terms, the inmate said. They responded by taunting Ozenne, who is black, with racial slurs.
The abuse escalated, with officers “hitting, kicking, slapping, punching and I think even spitting” on Ozenne as he lay on the concrete, the inmate said.
Ackal himself kicked Ozenne and used a racial slur, he said.
Ozenne’s account, described in his civil complaint filed in 2012, differs. In it, Ozenne alleged that Ackal watched his beating and threatened to “put a dog” on him.
According to both Ozenne and the inmate, officers then escorted Ozenne to the jail’s chapel, a room in the jail described in court documents and by inmates as having no cameras and obscured windows. In his complaint against the Sheriff’s Office, which was settled for $15,000, Ozenne alleged that he was beaten by Jason Comeaux, a current Sheriff’s Office employee.
The Advocate reported those allegations in May and made several attempts to contact Ozenne, who ultimately could not be reached for comment.
In an interview with The Advocate, Ackal said then that he could not comment on the allegations, citing pending litigation.
Maj. Ryan Turner, spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, said this week: “We’re not going to give the story credibility by responding to a source that isn’t even named.”
After Ozenne was escorted to the chapel, the prisoners were stripped naked and their heads shorn, the inmate said. Once he received his haircut, he was taken back to a dorm inside the jail, where an officer was holding Ozenne by his neck, pushing him forward along a line of other prisoners.
When they reached the inmate, who was last in line, they stopped. “It was him, right?” the officer said, according to the inmate. “Because there’s no one else. And if you’re lying to me, I’m gonna break your face.”
Ozenne agreed: The inmate was the one who had uttered the slur about the deputies. “I was turned around and shoved down the hallways, around the corner to the chapel,” the inmate said. “When I walked in, there were several cops in there, plus the warden. Once again, I was placed on my knees with my hands behind my head.”
Once there, the inmate says, Comeaux and other Sheriff’s Office officers tried to force him to admit he insulted them.
“I was slapped in the face and in the back of my head every time I answered no,” he said. “After being threatened with having the dog turned loose on me and other forms of violence, I finally convinced them that I did not say it.”
Twenty minutes passed, with officers ramping up the pressure on the inmate to come clean. Comeaux, he said, struck him three times in the leg with his riot stick.
Then, the inmate said, Comeaux asked him why he was locked up. When the inmate answered, he said, Comeaux put his riot stick between his legs and forced the inmate to simulate oral sex on it, as the other officers laughed. “He forced it into my mouth, busting my lip in the process, shoving it repeatedly to the back of my throat and gagging me,” the inmate said.
The attack lasted minutes, he said, but it “felt like hours.”
Former Warden Wesley Hayes, who has filed a whistleblower suit against the Sheriff’s Office, has given a similar version of events in a sworn affidavit that The Advocate cited in May.
However, Hayes’ affidavit differs in one key respect: In the affidavit, Hayes says Agent Ben LaSalle assaulted the inmate. The inmate says it was Comeaux.
Comeaux is named in at least four civil suits aimed at the Sheriff’s Office alleging excessive force or misconduct. Three of them have been settled, for a total of $45,000.
The Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed to The Advocate that Comeaux was recently removed from a joint federal-state task force but declined to say why.
Comeaux could not be reached for comment. Turner called Hayes’ allegations against the agency “politically motivated,” pointing out that Hayes worked under former Warden Roberta Boudreaux, who is now running against Ackal for Iberia Parish sheriff.
Although he said he still suffers from nightmares, the inmate said he felt some relief after speaking with federal investigators early this year.
“I need justice to be delivered to these people,” he said.