A former Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who accepted bribes to smuggle cellphones and marijuana to federal inmates avoided prison time Wednesday, receiving three years probation instead.
Tyrell Sutherland, 29, pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to provide contraband in a prison facility, a scheme that unfolded more than six years ago at Orleans Parish Prison. He faced up to five years behind bars under the law, but federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of imprisonment between zero and six months.
Sutherland made an emotional apology before U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval on Wednesday, saying he knew he broke the law and that “my conscience just ate me up” after accepting the bribes.
“When I did stop, it was too late,” he said. “I put my father through so much because he also worked at the facility. Everything is just eating up my family.”
Prosecutors did not argue for prison time, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Duane Evans filed court papers this week asking Duval take into account that Sutherland “clearly demonstrated acceptance of responsibility for his crime.”
The federal charges came several years after the Sheriff’s Office discovered that inmates within the jail’s Templeman V facility had been bribing deputies to bring contraband into the jail. Contraband remains a consistent problem for the jail, and cellphones, in particular, are still being discovered on a regular basis.
The investigation that ultimately led to Sutherland’s arrest began in 2008, after an inmate asked a jailer to deliver a package containing cellphone chargers to an inmate who had become known as the “King Smuggler,” according to court documents. The inmate, Sebastian Cuevas, had been awaiting trial at the time on firearms charges.
Investigators found cellphones, chargers, MP3 players and drugs inside the facility, and the Sheriff’s Office eventually arranged a sting operation ensnaring Cuevas’ sister, girlfriend and a third person.
The women told the authorities they had been smuggling contraband into the jail through a deputy, court records show, and identified Sutherland in a photo lineup.
Sutherland admitted meeting a person — identified only as T.W. in court papers — at a fast food restaurant on North Causeway Boulevard and taking a $300 bribe to deliver a package to an inmate that contained a cellphone and marijuana. He took a similar bribe the following week to deliver marijuana into the jail.
Sutherland was suspended from the Sheriff’s Office after failing a voice-stress analysis test and later fired. He was arrested in December 2008 on state counts of malfeasance in office and conspiring to introduce contraband into the jail, but court records show the District Attorney’s Office refused the case in June 2009.
It remains unclear why the DA never pursued state charges, and why the federal charges took so long to result in some type of punishment.
At the time of Sutherland’s guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite issued a statement saying the former deputy’s conduct “jeopardized the safety of his fellow sheriff’s deputies and the inmates he was entrusted to protect.”
“We will not tolerate this type of misconduct that undermines public trust in our law enforcement community,” Polite said in the statement at the time.
The federal government no longer houses detainees at OPP, having pulled them out of the facility in 2012 in light of its notorious violence and dysfunction, problems that last year formed the underpinning of a federal consent decree that requiring a sweeping overhaul of jail policies.
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