Patrick Sayes sees little distinction between his sins and those of Nate Cain.
Both men were Louisiana corrections supervisors who, according to internal investigators, looked on as their subordinates savagely beat an inmate.
But their stories diverge from there.
Sayes’ career effectively ended the day in 1997 that he failed to stop two guards who reported to him at Angola prison from assaulting inmate Rayfield Jackson. Worse, Sayes — who admitted his transgression — spent seven years in federal prison for his actions.
In 2009, Cain was written up for the same dereliction in duty: failing to prevent officers at Phelps Correction Center, where he was deputy warden, from beating a handcuffed inmate in his presence.
But Cain, whose father is former Angola Warden Burl Cain, never spent a day behind bars. He was never charged in the beating of David Breaux, and more significantly, his case does not appear to have ever been referred to law enforcement.
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The episode hardly made a dent in Nate Cain’s corrections career. His punishment — a 20-day suspension — was meted out by state corrections brass, stacked with friends and relatives of Cain and his influential father. Just three years after the write-up, the younger Cain was promoted to warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center.
Cain, 49, resigned last month amid investigations by two state agencies, including one into the cover-up of a possible inmate rape. Cain said he quit because of poor health.
There’s no doubt in Sayes’ mind about why he and Nate Cain got such disparate treatment.
“The biggest difference is, my last name’s Sayes; his last name is Cain,” Sayes said in an interview last month. “That’s a big difference. My brother-in-law ain’t No. 2 in command. My daddy ain’t best friends with (Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary) Jimmy LeBlanc. That’s the biggest contrast I see.”
LeBlanc, in a prepared statement, said Sayes’ assertion is bunk. Disciplinary matters are handled through a three-part chain of command involving the warden, the regional warden and the chief of operations. He is not involved, LeBlanc said.
“This process has long been established by department policy and regulations specifically to ensure that any person who holds the position of secretary cannot assert any undue influence over any internal disciplinary review,” he said. “I have followed these longstanding regulations since day one, and anyone who claims otherwise is either lying or very misinformed.”
LeBlanc added that under department policy, the abuse case involving Cain should have been reported to outside law enforcement. But corrections officials have been “unable to determine” whether that happened, owing to retirements and other factors, he said.
While the cases are parallel in many ways, there are, of course, differences.
The 1997 beating of Jackson was more severe than the one Breaux was subjected to in the presence of Nate Cain. Jackson suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, broken vertebrae and a ruptured kidney, according to evidence presented at trial.
The injuries Breaux suffered when he was beaten by a group of officers at Phelps Correctional Center, where Cain was a deputy warden, are less clear, in part because no one was tried in that assault.
The corrections department has not provided medical records, but an investigative report done by corrections officials at the time noted that Breaux’s head was smashed repeatedly into a pipe and a metal screen inside a car with enough force to leave flesh and hair on the screen. The attack came after Breaux, a convicted arsonist who had escaped a work detail by hopping a train to Texas, returned to the prison in the same fashion.
In a recent interview, Breaux said none of his injuries caused permanent damage, but he does claim he suffered greatly and was denied medical attention for days.
On the other hand, Sayes sees Cain’s malfeasance as more profound than his.
Sayes admitted he saw two guards in his command attack Jackson after the prisoner — a murderer notorious even among his peers at Angola’s Camp J, where the unruliest inmates are kept — spat on one of the guards. But he maintains to this day that the assault he witnessed was relatively minor, though there was contradictory testimony at the trial.
Sayes insisted in a recent interview with The Advocate that Jackson was not badly hurt when Sayes left to respond to another call. He said he told the guards to return Jackson to his cell, and they promised they would.
“I left that night with a clean heart,” he said.
Nate Cain, by comparison, was found to have looked on as guards beat Breaux inside a car in which Cain was a passenger, and he continued to watch as they threw Breaux on the ground and then rammed his head into a cell-block door, according to the internal probe.
Moreover, Cain wasn’t truthful with investigators. He insisted he was unaware of the beating, but the lead investigator, Col. Eric Sivula, didn’t believe him, noting pointedly in his report that Cain had been sitting less than two feet from the metal screen into which Breaux’s face was repeatedly bashed. The subsequent attacks also happened directly in Cain’s presence, Sivula found.
“Mine was one attack in one cell,” Sayes said. “He was there when they attacked the man at the train station, when they attacked the man in the car, when they attacked the man when they got out of the car and pushed him in the blacktop … and when they run his head into the iron pipe going into the cell block.
“He had four of them. And he’s become a warden? I have one of them, and then seven years in prison, three years probation … hmm, ain’t that something?”
There are some other curious connections between the two cases.
As it happens, Sayes’ boss when the beating happened was Burl Cain, then relatively new on the job as warden of the Angola prison.
The elder Cain sat down with Sayes within days of the beating. According to Sayes as well as testimony at his trial, the warden told the lieutenant that he had made a serious mistake, and that he was going to be demoted from lieutenant to sergeant as a result.
He told Sayes he needed to tell the truth about what happened, and as long as he did that, he’d be immune from prosecution. The deal the senior Cain proposed was agreed to by the West Feliciana Parish District Attorney’s Office, which generally has jurisdiction over Angola — at least as it relates to state charges.
“He said, ‘You tell me the truth and you’ll be demoted, and that’s it. There’ll be no charges of no kind against you,’ ” Sayes recalled. “He didn’t say, ‘No local charges, but federal charges.’ He said, ‘No charges of any kind.’ ”
Burl Cain would later testify that he told Sayes: “Come clean, tell us what happened, and I’m not going to turn you over to the district attorney.”
The warden did not in fact bring in the DA, but he told The Advocate in a recent interview that he did bring in the U.S. attorney — L.J. Hymel, a lawyer now in private practice who more recently has represented Burl Cain when he’s been in legal hot water.
“I called over there and said, ‘We’ve got a problem, and you need to come out here,’ ” Cain recalled.
The warden said he didn’t remember a promise of immunity as broad as that recalled by Sayes.
As it happens, both beatings were probed by the same internal investigator: Sivula, who, it appears, took a dim view of correctional officers in both attacks. And according to a letter of complaint filed by Nate Cain after he was written up, Sivula believed the case at Phelps would wind up going before a federal grand jury.
Sivula, who is now retired, has declined to speak with The Advocate about the two cases.
Correctional officials have said any incident like the 2009 beating must be reported to outside law enforcement, and it’s up to the warden to make the referral. But it does not appear that the warden at Phelps Correctional Center in 2009, Robert Henderson, referred the 2009 case involving Nate Cain to any law enforcement, state or federal.
Henderson has declined to speak with The Advocate.
Beauregard Parish Sheriff Ricky Moses told the newspaper his office has no record of a referral; so did a spokesperson for District Attorney James Lestage.
The FBI’s Louisiana spokesman, meanwhile, refused to comment on whether the bureau had ever been notified of a possible civil rights case in the beating at Phelps. Stephanie Finley, who since 2010 has served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, which would have had jurisdiction over Phelps, did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said that department had no record of any referral of the Phelps matter.
Sayes, 46, says he put his life back together after his release from prison in 2006. He is happily remarried, and he has a successful business driving a truck.
But he still gets wistful about the way his 11-year corrections career ended, and when he looks at his case next to Nate Cain’s, his blood boils. The favoritism shown to Cain couldn’t be plainer, in Sayes’ view.
“Whatever happened to me, I’d expect to happen to him,” he said. “I wasn’t no more guilty than he was. But I did seven years in prison, paid $3,000 restitution, three years probation, and … he’s left to be a warden? That’s insane. That’s pure-D insane.”
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.