A veteran corrections official who resigned recently from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has been rehired to oversee the city’s troubled jail, returning to a job she left less than two months ago because it had been plagued with political obstacles.
The official, Carmen I. DeSadier, who turned in her badge after less than a year on the job, will resume her duties as Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s chief of corrections in early May.
DeSadier came to New Orleans last year from Chicago, where she was an administrator in the Cook County Department of Corrections.
The Sheriff’s Office offered little explanation for DeSadier’s about-face, issuing a brief statement Tuesday that said the agency had made “great progress” during her tenure toward achieving a series of court-ordered jail reforms.
In fact, DeSadier led the lockup during a tumultuous stretch in which deputy turnover rates spiked and, according to a team of outside corrections experts, the Sheriff’s Office regressed in its bid to improve conditions for inmates, even after it opened the new $150 million Orleans Justice Center.
Pointing to a lack of properly trained deputies, those experts told a federal judge last week that parts of the new jail should be closed until Gusman can get a handle on the violence occurring behind bars.
In a telephone interview last month, DeSadier, 56, said she “concurred with everything” in a recent report in which the experts warned the jail had degenerated into a “day-to-day crisis environment.”
The sheriff, in an address to an activist group last week, acknowledged his agency “slipped a little bit” during the rocky move into the new jail. But in his statement Tuesday he said he looks forward to “building upon that progress when Chief DeSadier returns to work on May 2.”
Some current and former Sheriff’s Office employees questioned Gusman’s decision to rehire DeSadier, saying her departure had been welcomed by many of her subordinates. “Word is, if DeSadier comes back, everyone is walking out,” one deputy said.
DeSadier’s return appears to have been driven primarily by the departure of Gusman’s former chief deputy, Gerald “Jerry” Ursin, who resigned last week after the state Legislative Auditor’s Office released an investigative audit that tied him to an overbilling scandal involving off-duty deputy details.
A related FBI inquiry already has resulted in wire fraud charges against Roy Austin, a former Sheriff’s Office colonel, and sources familiar with the matter have said Ursin will be charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
DeSadier, in her Feb. 19 resignation letter, described a bitter power struggle in which “Ursin and those who align their loyalties with him interfere with the forward progress I seek to gain.”
DeSadier had been tasked with satisfying a sweeping federal consent decree that called for an overhaul of Sheriff’s Office policies and a series of measures aimed at reducing jailhouse violence.
“His abrasive tactics, questionable practices and bullying of personnel who attempt to work with me has created an atmosphere of fear and disdain,” DeSadier wrote about Ursin. “This agency would be better served without his contemptuous influence.”
One circumstance that remains largely unchanged since DeSadier’s resignation is the financial standoff between Gusman and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which under state law must pay for the care of inmates. DeSadier, in her resignation letter, condemned “the political climate” between the Sheriff’s Office and City Hall.
“It has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve compliance with the consent judgment without an open and honest collaboration between the two governmental agencies,” she wrote.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.