Authorities said Friday they have identified the Orleans Parish Prison inmate who used a smuggled cellphone to produce a jailhouse video of inmates snorting lines of white powder in a holding cell — alarming footage that highlighted the jail’s chronic struggle to curtail the flow of contraband.
In fact, they said, they identified him almost two months ago.
The inmate, Lance Carter, 21, is wanted on a count of introducing contraband into a penal institution. He was released from the jail about two weeks before WWL-TV aired the cellphone video — a segment that “immediately started a full investigation,” according to an arrest warrant issued on July 21, four days after the story ran.
“He’s at large,” Philip Stelly, an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said of Carter on Friday.
The 30-second video, dated June 26, shows a group of apparently unsupervised inmates congregating around a water fountain, engaging in what the warrant calls “illegal drug activity.” One person can be heard on the video saying, “(They’re) over there snorting lines.”
A narrator makes reference to an earlier, more notorious series of jailhouse videos that emerged last year of OPP inmates chugging Budweiser, gambling, injecting drugs, handling a firearm and even frolicking on Bourbon Street when they were supposed to be locked up.
“OPP Part 2,” someone is heard saying on the June video. “Ain’t got no guns and all that. We live entertainment.”
After the video became public, Sheriff Marlin Gusman issued a statement reiterating his “zero-tolerance policy” toward contraband. But he also pointed out that deputies are “prohibited from strip searching” inmates at the jail without probable cause due to a $10 million civil rights settlement that resulted from a class-action lawsuit filed against former longtime Sheriff Charles Foti.
“We rely on the arresting agencies to conduct thorough searches — incident to a lawful arrest — before arrestees enter the Intake and Processing Center,” the sheriff said in his statement. “This alleged contraband violation did not occur in a housing unit.”
After viewing the most recent video on television, investigators with the Special Operations Division of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office began an “extensive search” using the jail’s own surveillance footage from June 26, the warrant says. They focused their efforts on the Intake and Processing Center and pinpointed an inmate “dressed in dark clothing in the rear of the male holding cell, holding up a personal cellular telephone.”
“Through extensive searching,” the warrant says, “the detective was able to backtrack the subject’s entry as well as the placing of this subject into the male holding cell.”
Carter had turned himself in to the Sheriff’s Office on June 25, when he was booked on an outstanding Municipal Court warrant. The warrant notes that Carter was patted down at a processing desk and “instructed to empty the contents of his pockets and release all his personal property.”
WWL-TV, in its original story on the video, reported that the contraband phone also contained several photographs of men “wearing orange jumpsuits that clearly show the letters OPSO, for Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.”
Stelly, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said Friday he has gotten “no indication” yet from investigators that other inmates will be charged in connection with the video, though he said it remained possible.
Contraband has remained a persistent problem at OPP, which since October has been subject to the terms of a sweeping federal consent decree that requires wholesale changes at the lockup.
Law enforcement officials consider cellphones, in many cases, to be as potentially deadly as a homemade knife because they allow inmates to place unmonitored calls that could influence their cases. In 2009, a jailed associate of New Orleans crime lord Telly Hankton allegedly used a smuggled cellphone inside OPP to order the execution of a key witness.
While cellphones pose a problem for jailers everywhere, the issue has been particularly acute at times at OPP, where cellphones are still being found on a regular basis. In March, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro confirmed that investigators were trying to figure out how more than a dozen smartphones ended up inside the jail. It’s not clear whether anyone was ever charged in that case.
A report released last month by the team of outside experts monitoring the court-ordered reforms at the prison found that shakedowns were not being conducted frequently enough, as evidenced by “the large amount of contraband which is discovered each time shakedowns do occur.”
“There is no effort to determine the source of the contraband and remediate the danger,” the monitors added.
The earlier jailhouse videos, shot in mid-2009, surfaced in federal court last year as city officials sought to convince U.S. District Judge Lance Africk that the jail was out of control due to Gusman’s alleged mismanagement. That footage prompted criminal charges against 14 inmates, almost all of whom have pleaded guilty.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.