Josh Hanson’s underage victim kept silent for nearly six months after he sexually assaulted her in the Abita Springs woods in June 2013. She told an investigator that the 25-year-old man had boasted he would use his family ties to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office against her.
Six of Hanson’s family members, including his parents, Curtis and Cheryl Hanson, work for the Sheriff’s Office. The girl, then a 16-year-old student at Chalmette High School, had been afraid.
Now she’s angry.
Hanson, who was arrested in February 2014, pleaded guilty Oct. 22, 2015, to molestation of a juvenile, carnal knowledge of a juvenile and failure to register as a sex offender. He was sentenced to seven years in state prison.
But so far, Hanson remains in the St. Tammany Parish Jail, where he has a cell block to himself. The arrangement, known as protective isolation, is designed to shield him from inmates who might target him because he’s related to Sheriff’s Office employees.
But his victim believes it amounts to special treatment for a convicted criminal whose father happens to be close to outgoing Sheriff Jack Strain, the official in charge of the jail.
“Jack Strain is Curtis Hanson’s best friend. They grew up together,” she said. “He was never going to go to prison. He was never going to run into rapists, murderers and child molesters just like him ... because his last name is Hanson.”
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, questioned the wisdom of keeping Hanson in the parish jail after his conviction.
A sheriff can determine, to a large extent, whom he is going to accept into his jail, Goyeneche said. If an inmate poses a security risk, as suggested by the fact that he’s being kept in isolation, why would a sheriff keep that inmate “one day longer than he needs to?” Goyeneche asked.
One of Hanson’s relatives is also a ranking officer in the jail, which Goyeneche said only adds to the potential for special treatment.
“I think there is a potential conflict of interest, and I think it is inappropriate for that inmate to be housed in St. Tammany Parish post-guilty plea, post-conviction,” he said.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. George Bonnett said Hanson was sentenced in November, and the state Department of Corrections only recently completed the administrative work necessary to move him to another location.
“That process is ongoing and he should be relocated within the next few weeks,” Bonnett said.
But Pam Laborde, spokeswoman for the Corrections Department, said the sheriff does not appear to have made a request to move Hanson. Without a request, the department would be unlikely to act because Hanson’s sentence and other factors made him a candidate for serving his sentence in a local jail.
“If there had been (a request), we would have been able to process the transfer within a few weeks, provided his paperwork was in order,” she said.
Bonnett said that no one in the Hanson family asked that he be kept at the Covington jail, and Strain did not ask the Corrections Department to keep him there.
The items in his cell are the same as for any other inmate, plus any personal items that are allowed under policy, Bonnett said.
Surveillance video obtained by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV shows Hanson freely going in and out of a common area outside his cell. That area is accessible only to inmates in protective isolation.
But sources familiar with the jail say Hanson has access to an Xbox, the popular videogame console. Goyeneche said such an item normally would be considered contraband.
Bonnett denied that Hanson has an Xbox. Surveillance video from the jail shows Hanson with a small electronic device that Bonnett said was a radio purchased at the jail commissary and available to all inmates.
But apparently there is some leeway in what inmates serving time in isolation are allowed to have.
“If, while serving time in isolation, an inmate is allowed an item by the warden or jail staff due to his confinement status, then that item is not considered contraband for that inmate,” Bonnett said.
Hanson spent time in the parish jail prior to his guilty plea, and he’ll get credit for that time. He was arrested in February 2014 and apparently never got out on bond.
He also faced charges in Orleans Parish related to the same victim, and he pleaded guilty in November to four counts of carnal knowledge of a juvenile in that jurisdiction. He was sentenced to 61/2 years for each count, to be served at the same time as his sentence in St. Tammany. The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Hanson after consulting with prosecutors in St. Tammany and Orleans parishes.
Hanson also was sentenced to five years in St. Tammany for failing to register as a sex offender, to be served at the same time.
In 2010, while in the Army at Fort Polk, he pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Army investigators said that in that case, he had two encounters with a female juvenile under the age of 16, one involving an oral sex act and the other sexual intercourse, for which he was court-martialed.
State law requires sex offenders to register in person with the sheriff or, if they live in a city of more than 300,000, with the police department. Hanson, who was living with his parents in the small town of Abita Springs, never did so.
The girl he is in jail for assaulting told a St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office investigator that she began an online relationship with Hanson when she was 13, according to the affidavit for Hanson’s arrest. They began having sex when she was 15 and he was 24, she said, with incidents that took place in Metairie, where she then lived, and in New Orleans as well as St. Tammany. All but the final two encounters were consensual, she said.
The relationship ended in violence when a tryst he had planned at his parents’ home in Abita Springs went awry, she said. Hanson became enraged when his parents changed their plans to be away from home, according to the affidavit, and he quarreled with his father on the phone before driving the girl to a remote wooded area.
Hanson told her that he could kill her and “no one would know it,” the affidavit said. He then forced her into anal sex, ignoring her pleas for him to stop. “The pain will go away eventually,” he told her. And after he finished, he said, “Go ahead and scream. No one can hear you out here.”
After months of silence, she finally went to the authorities, in part, she said, because Hanson had begun sending her ugly text messages. She wanted to make sure he went to jail to prevent him from hurting someone else, she said: “I didn’t want it to be my fault that somebody else would have to go through the same thing I did.”
She said that when she made a victim impact statement in Orleans Parish, Hanson kept smirking at her, winking at her parents and blowing kisses to her sister.
She said she comforted herself with the thought that he would soon be confined at a state prison full of convicted criminals.
Then she found out he was still in St. Tammany Parish.
“He still doesn’t have to face what he did to me,” she said. “They made all this happen. They pulled the strings.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed Feb. 16 to correct the date of Josh Hanson’s guilty plea.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.