Four deputies facing civil rights charges in the death of an inmate last year at the St. Bernard Parish Prison will remain free on signature bonds — written promises to appear in court — as they await trial on allegations they ignored the young woman’s urgent medical needs.
But a federal magistrate on Monday ordered the four to surrender their badges and any other items identifying them as law enforcement officials, a requirement that for one of the defendants meant giving up his St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office vehicle.
The jailers — Capt. Andre Dominick, Cpl. Timothy Williams and deputies Debra Becnel and Lisa Vaccarella — face up to life in prison if they are convicted of depriving the inmate, 19-year-old Nimali Henry, of her civil rights “under color of law.”
They pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as one count each of making false statements to the FBI.
U.S. Magistrate Joseph Wilkinson Jr. allowed each one to remain free on a $50,000 unsecured bond, a decision that generally means a defendant has little or no criminal history and is not believed to pose a flight risk before trial.
The deputies sat quietly in the courtroom before the brief hearing — some of them leafing through copies of the five-count indictment — and said little once the proceeding began. Several of their family members were in attendance.
Wilkinson set a Feb. 22 trial date before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.
Sheriff James Pohlmann said the four remain on paid administrative leave. He declined further comment on the case.
Monday’s hearing offered no new details about the government’s case against the deputies, who are accused of willfully depriving Henry of medical care and then lying to federal agents.
Henry had been in jail for less than two weeks at the time of her death. She was arrested after a domestic dispute involving the father of her infant daughter. Deputies found her dead inside an isolation cell on April 1, 2014. Authorities later determined she had suffered a fatal blood clot.
According to prosecutors, Henry had been under a physician’s care for “serious medical conditions” before her arrest and required regular medication. The deputies knew of the inmate’s needs, the Justice Department alleges, but failed to take her to a doctor or hospital.
Henry’s family has said she had thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare platelet disease that can cause blood clots to form. A civil lawsuit related to her death says she had a number of life-threatening conditions, including an immune-system disorder known as Graves’ disease.
The highest-ranking official charged in the case is Dominick, a 25-year veteran of the agency who at the time of Henry’s death was handling medical care at the jail on a temporary basis. In an interview this month, he denied having even spoken with the FBI about the case, even though he is accused of making false statements to that agency.
He was told to give up his Sheriff’s Office vehicle.
Henry’s family, in a statement, said it is grateful to the FBI and Justice Department “for their dedication and hard work in bringing to light what happened to Nimali.”
“Our focus now is on Nilijah (Henry’s daughter), who just made 2 years old and who will grow up without her mother,” they said.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.