Sheriff’s Office clears jail guard of beating allegations _lowres

Darran Reppond

A deputy accused of assaulting an inmate at Orleans Parish Prison late last year has been cleared of wrongdoing by an internal investigation, according to newly released documents and an attorney for Sheriff Marlin Gusman. But a defense lawyer who visited the inmate, Darran Reppond, after the jailhouse run-in maintained Tuesday that Reppond’s injuries suggested he had, in fact, been “beaten by a guard.”

Reppond, a convicted killer who has a criminal history in several states, claimed in Criminal District Court in December that a guard had choked him and thrown him to the ground without provocation inside the jail’s Templeman V facility, and that jail officials refused to treat his bleeding wounds and dislocated knee.

The attorneys who had asked that Reppond be transferred to New Orleans so he could testify in a 1995 death-penalty case grew so concerned for his safety that they filed a motion seeking his immediate return to a Florida prison.

“I saw Mr. Reppond’s injuries two days later, and he had a gaping wound to his ankle that had yet to be treated,” attorney Sarah Ottinger said in a telephone interview. She said the inmate appeared to have a bone “popping out from his knee.”

“Based on what I observed in terms of injuries and witnesses to the incident — not to mention the fact that it appears four (deputies) were called in on the incident — I believe Darran Reppond was beaten by a guard,” she added.

A spokesman for Gusman did not respond to repeated requests for comment Tuesday.

Sheriff’s Office reports on the incident, produced last week in response to a public-records request made in February, make no mention of an inmate being beaten, though they do suggest Deputy Erick Smith manhandled Reppond after the inmate “chest-bumped” him and refused to return to his cell. Investigators did not find “substantial evidence to press criminal charges against either” Reppond or the deputy, according to the reports.

Craig Frosch, the attorney who fields public-records requests for the sheriff, said in an email that “the force used against the unruly inmate appears to have been appropriate and not excessive under the circumstances.”

“We are told that (the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Division) was provided with the report and no discipline was recommended for the deputy involved in the altercation,” Frosch added. “We further understand that inmate Reppond was apparently returned to the Florida prison system from whence he came without additional incident.”

Katie Schwartzmann, the attorney whose class-action lawsuit prompted a court-ordered plan for reforms at OPP, blasted the investigation into Reppond’s claims as “not credible,” saying it contained false statements about her alleged involvement in the case. She said she was “extremely alarmed” by the notion that Smith was not disciplined.

“This is one of the issues (the Sheriff’s Office) is under court order to address,” Schwartzmann said. “Failure to investigate and discipline staff for misconduct is dangerous for prisoners, as well as other deputies working in the jail.”

Reppond and Smith offered conflicting accounts of their confrontation, which occurred about 6 p.m. as Smith was trying to “lock down” a cell-block reserved for mentally ill inmates. Reppond was supposed to be held in protective custody as an inmate witness, but he apparently was being housed among the mentally ill inmates because of a space issue.

He had been transferred to OPP to testify on behalf of Rogers LaCaze, a death row prisoner who claims he was wrongfully convicted in the 1995 massacre at the Kim Anh restaurant in New Orleans East.

Reppond claims he once shared a jail cell with a man who confessed to gunning down a police officer and two young siblings at the restaurant — the crime for which LaCaze was sentenced to die.

Reppond apparently had been trying for some time to make a phone call from the jail and demanded to speak with a supervising officer when he encountered Smith, who repeatedly told Reppond it was time to return to his cell. The inmate became belligerent and told Smith he was serving a life sentence and “had nothing to lose,” the deputy wrote in an incident report.

According to one inmate statement, Reppond used a racial slur and threatened Smith, who had been told by colleagues to back away and exit the tier.

“Inmate Reppond began to get more violent and braced up to me as if he was going to strike me,” Smith wrote in his report, “and that’s when I took hold of his uniform and walked him to his cell. Once in his cell, I let inmate Reppond go and told him not to get up.”

Another deputy, Kevin Watson, wrote that Reppond had been shouting obscenities when Smith “took hold of inmate Reppond’s uniform and escorted him to his cell.” Watson added that he saw Smith standing in front of Reppond, “who at the time was sitting on the floor.”

According to an inter-office memorandum written by Deputy Kenneth Goodman Jr., of the Sheriff’s Office’s Special Operations Division, Reppond told investigators Smith had “grabbed him and pushed him into his cell, causing him injury to his ankle.” Detectives sought to interview “several other inmates on the tier,” Goodman wrote, “but none of the other inmates wished to cooperate with the investigation, stating they either did not wish to make an official statement or they did not witness the incident.”

The report made no mention of a dislocated knee but noted that Reppond received medical treatment for “minor scratches to the right side of his chest and an abrasion to the left ankle.”

In a voluntary statement that appears to have been written by Goodman, Reppond is quoted as saying he was advised by Schwartzmann “not to talk to anyone nor give any statements.” In his memo, Goodman added that Reppond “stated he was informed by his lawyer it would be in his best interest not to say anything about the incident without his attorney (identified as Katie Schwartzmann) being present.”

Schwartzmann took issue with that account Tuesday, saying she has never met Reppond and never advised him not to cooperate with the internal investigation.

“I thought we had agreement with the Sheriff’s Office about this point and that the Sheriff’s Office was conducting an additional, meaningful investigation,” she said.

Schwartzmann, co-director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans, said she has received reports that Smith injured other inmates besides Reppond.

“With the permission of our clients, we passed those allegations along to (the Sheriff’s Office) so that they could take action,” she added. “We understood that Deputy Smith was moved to a position in which he has no contact with prisoners.”

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.