Convict with family ties to St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office moved from parish jail _lowres

Joshua Hanson

Joshua Hanson, a convicted sex offender whose family connections to St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office employees have raised questions about special treatment for him in the parish jail, was transferred from there Monday, a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman said.

Pam Laborde said Hanson was moved to the reception and diagnostic center of Elayn Hunt Correction Center in St. Gabriel.

Hanson, whose parents are both ranking officers with the Sheriff’s Office, had been housed in the parish jail since before he pleaded guilty in October to molestation of a juvenile, carnal knowledge of a juvenile and failure to register as a sex offender.

The 27-year-old, who is serving a seven-year sentence, was being kept in protective isolation at the jail to protect him from other inmates who might target him because his relatives work for Sheriff Jack Strain. There are at least six close family members on the Sheriff’s Office payroll.

Hanson most recently was housed by himself on a 10-man tier at the jail, although for a time, he shared a tier with former New Orleans Saints player Darren Sharper.

Strain did not respond Monday to requests for comment on the move.

The victim, who was 16 when Hanson sexually molested her in June 2013 in the woods near Abita Springs, was angry when she learned he was still in the parish jail. She said last month that she believes he received special treatment because his family is close to Strain.

An investigator with the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office raised questions about whether Hanson was getting special treatment in the jail even before he went to trial. In an email obtained by The New Orleans Advocate through a public records request, the investigator said he had heard Hanson had access to an Xbox, among other things.

The Sept. 3 email urged the District Attorney’s Office to raise questions about Hanson’s treatment with Strain or the head of the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Division and to encourage the Sheriff’s Office to transfer Hanson to another parish to avoid “any appearance of unethical conduct or conflict of interest.”

Montgomery said Hanson then was three weeks away from trial and there were “practical reasons” for him to remain in St. Tammany, including security risks involved in transporting prisoners and the possibility of delays.

“So we decided not to request a transfer,” he said in an email. “Nevertheless, it is not our responsibility — nor do we have the authority — to house prisoners or to determine their treatment.”

Sheriffs, on the other hand, can, to a large extent, determine whom they will house in their jails, Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche said last month.

When The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV asked about Hanson’s incarceration last month, a spokesman for Strain said administrative work on Hanson’s case by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections had only recently been completed and he would be transferred in a few weeks.

But Laborde said Monday that the request to move Hanson was not made until last week. The warden of the St. Tammany jail asked that he be moved sometime between Tuesday, when Laborde first responded to inquiries about Hanson’s status, and Friday.

That’s the same week The Advocate and WWL-TV ran reports about Hanson’s 2009 arrest on allegations of choking the mother of his 6-week-old daughter and threatening her and members of his family with a firearm. He was never prosecuted on those allegations, and Holly Burton, the alleged victim, said she believes his family was able to get him out of trouble.

Hanson, who served in the Army, also pleaded guilty in 2010 to two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, stemming from sexual encounters he had with a girl younger than 16 while stationed at Fort Polk. It was that crime that led to his conviction for failure to register as a sex offender.

As for the victim in the case in which Hanson pleaded guilty in October, she said she was happy to learn he had been moved from the parish jail.

“I just hope he realizes he can’t get away with it,” she said. “He has to suffer for the crimes that he committed. He can’t just get special treatment anymore. I am glad. That’ll show him.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed March 8 to clarify that the internal email urging the District Attorney’s Office to raise questions about Hanson’s treatment was not addressed to DA Warren Montgomery, but to others in the office.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.