The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office this week fired and arrested a rogue deputy who had repeatedly smuggled marijuana and tobacco to members of a street gang awaiting trial at Orleans Parish Prison, authorities said Thursday.
The investigation into Deputy Rubin Robertson, who worked within the troubled Orleans Parish Prison facility, marked the 17th case of contraband the Sheriff’s Office has investigated since September, Sheriff Marlin Gusman said. At least one other deputy has been prosecuted for smuggling illegal items into the lockup during that period.
“Part of what makes this really bad is that these deputies are in a position of trust,” Gusman told reporters. “They’re in a position of trust and a position of service to our community.”
Robertson, 27, had worked at the Sheriff’s Office for about a year. He remained behind bars late Thursday in lieu of $87,500 bail.
He was booked late Wednesday on malfeasance in office, possession of marijuana and hydrocodone, six counts of distributing drugs and six counts of taking contraband into the jail.
Gusman said additional charges are possible. “We have a continuing investigation into this matter,” he said. “We will investigate every lead that comes out of it.”
Robertson’s arrest marked the latest setback for a Sheriff’s Office struggling to meet the stringent requirements of a court-ordered reform plan, an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department prompted by a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates.
A team of court-appointed experts monitoring the jail’s compliance with the so-called consent decree issued a report in February that faulted the Sheriff’s Office for not conducting shakedowns “with sufficient frequency, as evidenced by the contraband items (particularly homemade shanks) used by inmates to assault one another and 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 report said. “While there are inspections of housing units, there is no indication that there are consistent standards of what is expected, or that changes are made to the facilities as a result of the inspection findings.”
In Robertson’s case, the investigation stemmed not from a routine search for contraband but from a tip from a “confidential source,” court documents show.
Robertson was confronted Wednesday by Deputy Lance Wade, of the Sheriff’s Office’s Investigative Services Bureau. Robertson admitted to taking marijuana and tobacco into OPP on six occasions in March and April, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Robertson allowed investigators to search his vehicle, which was parked outside the jail. Inside it, the authorities found a gram of marijuana, four tablets of hydrocodone and tobacco “repackaged in a manner which (would) allow concealment into a correctional facility,” court documents show.
Robertson was fired and arrested after providing his statement to Wade.
Gusman said Robertson had been paid to smuggle the drugs into the jail, but the sheriff did not identify the source of the money. “Unfortunately, we don’t think this was his first time,” he said, “and that’s how we were able to develop the information” that led investigators to the contraband.
Gusman also did not elaborate on what gang members authorities believe received the smuggled goods.
Robertson is hardly the first deputy to be fired amid allegations he smuggled contraband into OPP.
In February, Evelyn Tureaud, a former deputy who had fallen in love with an inmate, was sentenced to five years of probation for accepting bribes to sneak packages of contraband into the jail. Tureaud also was charged with malfeasance in office and pleaded guilty to that charge in December.
Last year, former Deputy Tyrell Sutherland pleaded guilty to smuggling marijuana and at least one cellphone to federal inmates awaiting trial at OPP in 2008. He also was spared jail time but was fatally shot in an apparent mugging in December in eastern New Orleans.
In some cases, Gusman said, the evidence didn’t meet “the minimum threshold for criminal prosecution” but did trigger administrative sanctions, including terminations.
Gusman dismissed a suggestion Thursday that the low starting salary for deputies tempts them to supplement their income by smuggling contraband. Rookie deputies earn $26,000 per year, a rate that increases to $27,000 after six months of employment, said Philip Stelly, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
“This isn’t about pay,” Gusman said during a news conference in front of the new $145 million jail scheduled to open later this year. “This is about someone’s moral compass. People get paid a whole lot less in other professions and are still honest and still forthright and upright.”
The new 1,438-bed lockup will be a “much more secure facility” than OPP, Gusman said, in part because it will have fewer entrances and will include a body scanner.
“Of course, contraband is an issue for all correctional facilities,” Gusman said, “but we’re determined to root it out.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.