Surveillance cameras captured an incident at the city’s new jail last week in which an inmate “created a burst of flame” a foot wide after spraying an electrical outlet with an unidentified liquid, according to Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office reports.
The vandalism happened days after another man awaiting trial sprayed an “unknown liquid substance” into the face of a deputy, who then required immediate treatment for “chemical exposure to the eye,” the documents show.
The episodes highlighted the instability at a $150 million lockup that corrections experts have deemed dangerously understaffed — a shortage of deputies that has prompted Sheriff Marlin Gusman to send hundreds of inmates to jails in northeastern Louisiana to await trial.
But while deputies have been accused of underreporting violence and jailhouse mischief in recent weeks, the Sheriff’s Office’s Investigative Services Bureau made arrests in both spraying cases and a separate incident involving a small fire ignited by an inmate tampering with a dryer.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk on Monday scheduled an April hearing to address the lack of training and “finalized fire safety policies” at the Orleans Justice Center, noting that the Sheriff’s Office has yet to conduct a fire drill at the 1,438-bed facility yet, even though it opened in September.
“It is ordered that the sheriff shall take immediate steps to address fire safety at OJC and that the sheriff or his representatives be present to discuss progress” at the hearing, Africk wrote in an order.
The judge is overseeing a reform effort at the jail known as a federal consent decree, a plan monitored by the U.S. Justice Department and outside prison experts.
Africk previously addressed fire safety concerns at the now-shuttered Orleans Parish Prison, which often failed annual inspections.
Africk’s ruling followed an incident last week in which Bruce Jones, a 24-year-old inmate, tried to light a “homemade wick” on Pod 4-C of the jail, according to Sheriff’s Office reports. Jones “sprayed an electrical outlet with an unknown clear liquid” before tampering with the outlet “in an unknown fashion,” Agent Troy Phares wrote in a report.
“After several attempts at ignition, the inmate created a burst of flame approximately one foot in diameter,” Phares added.
Deputies last week also rearrested Renard Henry, an inmate accused of igniting a small fire in the jail’s laundry room with what investigators believed to be toilet paper. An arrest report says Henry stuffed the paper — which had been wadded in a “cylindrical fashion” — into a dryer while holding down the safety button. The object was “visibly on fire” when Henry removed it, the report says, and created smoke that another inmate fanned away from a smoke detector.
Henry, 32, faces one count of “fire raising in a correctional facility” in that Oct. 30 incident. It was not clear why Henry was not arrested sooner.
Charles Carter, an inmate found guilty last month in the slaying of a UNO student and the shooting and robbery of a New Orleans lawyer, was rebooked Sunday on counts of aggravated second-degree battery and battery of a police officer. Carter, 19, is accused of spraying Deputy Shane Hemphill in the face with chemicals contained in a “shampoo-style bottle,” according to a report on the Feb. 13 incident.
Carter already faces life in prison for the murder of Valan May and the shooting of lawyer Sandy Kaynor, who is now paralyzed.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.