Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s chief corrections deputy resigned Friday after less than a year on the job, adding to an alarming rate of turnover at the city’s jail that has slowed a federally monitored reform effort.
The departure of Carmen DeSadier, who oversaw the opening of the city’s new jail, the Orleans Justice Center, in September, marked the latest setback for an agency that has struggled to retain employees at all levels.
Like her predecessor, Michael Tidwell, who also stepped down after an unexpectedly brief tenure, DeSadier was an outsider tasked with turning around a jail that has remained violent and chaotic despite an extensive reform plan intended to improve conditions deemed unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.
“These were individuals who came from the outside to assist (the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office) with moving forward,” said Katie Schwartzmann, the MacArthur Justice Center attorney whose class-action lawsuit prompted the federal consent decree mandating jail reforms. “But both have now quit. This is yet another indication that things continue to fall apart” at the jail.
The consent decree between the Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Justice Department calls for an overhaul of Sheriff’s Office policies and a number of measures aimed at reducing jailhouse violence. Creation of DeSadier’s position — chief of corrections — was required by the decree.
DeSadier, a veteran jail administrator in Chicago, was chosen from a half-dozen applicants after a nationwide search. She had retired from Cook County after three decades of service.
Her resignation came less than three weeks after corrections experts told Africk that the $150 million new jail, which replaced the notorious Orleans Parish Prison, already has become an oppressive place for inmates, largely due to chronic understaffing.
But there also have been questions within the agency and beyond about DeSadier’s approach to management, particularly regarding investigations of criminal activity inside the jail.
One of the experts monitoring the jail reforms, Margo Frasier, a former sheriff in Austin, Texas, told Africk this month that it appeared the Sheriff’s Office had been underreporting the number of jailhouse attacks.
“I have significant concerns regarding interference or downright stopping of investigations,” Frasier said at a Feb. 2 hearing in U.S. District Court.
Gusman tapped Col. Michael Laughlin to serve as acting chief of corrections and said the Sheriff’s Office will begin searching for DeSadier’s replacement immediately.
“While we’re sorry to see Chief DeSadier go, the Sheriff’s Office remains committed to achieving substantial compliance with the consent agreement, providing a living wage for security personnel and caring for the inmate population we are required to house,” Gusman said in a statement.
Schartzmann, who represents inmates awaiting trial at the jail, said that, in negotiating the consent decree, “one of the very important provisions that we insisted upon was that he hire a full-time corrections professional with experience running a jail.”
“Violence remains extremely high. There is a lack of staff,” she added. “And now there is no corrections chief at the helm.”
Tidwell, who had extensive corrections experience in several states, left the Sheriff’s Office in December 2014 after a falling out with Gusman. Several sources said at the time that he felt he lacked the autonomy to make wholesale changes at the jail.
Tidwell said in his resignation letter that he believed his decision to leave would allow Gusman to “hire someone more in tune with (his) management style and agency vision.”
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