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Gary Maynard, the court appointed administrator for the New Orleans jail, bows his head in prayer at the graduation ceremony of the Peace Office Standards and Training academy on June 6, 2017. Maynard resigned his post on Monday.

When a veteran jailer was brought in to run the New Orleans lockup in 2016, the facility was on the verge of a full federal takeover.

Gary Maynard, the former corrections chief for Maryland, had one directive: to clean up one of the most dangerous jails in the nation.

Now, 16 months later, Maynard is on his way out of town — and the city's jail is still plagued by violence, suicide and drugs.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk said Monday that he had accepted the resignation of Maynard, who has run the lockup's day-to-day operations as compliance director since October 2016, when Sheriff Marlin Gusman was effectively sidelined.

The announcement came less than two weeks after a report from federal monitors called the facility “critically unsafe,” and on the same day as a gloomy hearing in Africk’s courtroom.

Africk said he has appointed Darnley R. Hodge, who has served as a jail monitor, to be acting director effective Feb. 19.

Maynard will lead the jail in the interim. It’s not clear whether his resignation came at the request of the judge. Maynard declined comment.

“It was kind of a mutual agreement, but I’m not going to say any more,” Maynard said.

Africk’s announcement came hours after a court hearing in which he expressed frustration with the state of the jail but gave no hint of the pending leadership shakeup. The judge is overseeing the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office reform agreement with the federal government, which is known as a consent decree.

"While there has been some improvement in compliance over the course of Director Maynard’s tenure, the court is nonetheless dissatisfied with the pace of reform and lack of compliance relating to numerous mandates of the consent decree," Africk said in his order.

He added, "The level of violence at the jail, number of suicides and attempted suicides, lack of timely and meaningful healthcare, delay in completion of required written policies, incidences of incomplete reporting, and lack of accessible mental healthcare, especially among female inmates with acute mental health issues, is unacceptable."

The news is a major setback for the reform push at the jail, which in June will enter its sixth year under a court order to improve conditions. When Gusman selected Maynard as the jail’s compliance director under orders from the judge, the hope was that the newcomer could turn things around.

Africk had stripped Gusman of many of his powers in August 2016 after a several-day hearing about endemic violence and inadequate staffing at the jail. In lieu of placing the facility in federal receivership, the judge decided to create the compliance director position. The new administrator was supposed to work with Gusman but ultimately report to the judge.

Maynard’s resignation raises questions about the compliance director arrangement, which came about as a last-minute compromise between Gusman and lawyers on the other side of the court case who were seeking a full federal takeover.

It’s not clear whether Gusman will choose the next full-time compliance director, whether he will attempt to regain control of the jail or whether the plaintiffs in the case will once again push for full receivership.

Adding to the uncertainty, a new mayor, LaToya Cantrell, will take office in May, and the U.S. Justice Department has become much more leery of consent decrees under President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Maynard served as corrections chief for Iowa, South Carolina and Maryland before he was selected to lead the New Orleans lockup. He was praised for his role in reducing inmate suicides in Iowa, although a gang corruption scandal in Baltimore’s jail dominated his final days in Maryland.

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Gary Maynard, left, is greeted by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, right, after he is named compliance director of the New Orleans jail on Aug. 25, 2016. He announced his resignation Monday.

Only three weeks into his tenure in New Orleans, Maynard faced his first major challenge when a 15-year-old boy hanged himself on the jail’s youth tier. City officials later praised Maynard for taking steps to improve the youth wing, but he faced many other hurdles.

As the federal monitors noted in their recent report, six inmates died in the jail’s custody in 2017. That translated into a death rate four times the national average.

At least two of the inmate deaths in 2017 were caused by drug overdoses. Maynard acknowledged at Monday's court hearing that the jail has struggled to contain the flow of contraband.

“2017 was a particularly challenging year for us with respect to inmate deaths,” he said. “Our facility is experiencing the endless efforts of certain inmates to bring in narcotics.”

Africk expressed frustration, meanwhile, with events that he and the lead court-appointed monitor have witnessed at the jail. He said that in the past few months he witnessed a women’s unit that lacked toilet paper and sanitary napkins.

When a court-appointed monitor visited a women’s unit at the jail on Sunday night, she walked past cells that reeked of marijuana. A deputy who should have been on guard was sitting in a control room, even though the unit had been the site of a major fight earlier in the day.

“That’s obviously unacceptable,” Africk said. “The staff runs the jail. The inmates don’t run the jail.”

Africk’s irritation dovetailed with the Jan. 18 report from his monitors, which covered in exhausting detail the grim conditions at the lockup. At Monday's hearing, lead monitor Margo Frasier said the jail struggles with contraband, violence and a poor staff culture.

Yet even as a series of experts expressed distress about violence, inadequate health care and poor suicide precautions, there was no hint Monday morning that Maynard was leaving his job.

Africk said in his order later in the day that despite the grim conditions outlined at the hearing, the jail can be fixed.

"The problems facing the Orleans Parish Justice Center are not incapable of being remedied. The court is firmly convinced that, with the assistance of the monitors, dedicated corrections staff and the parties, the outstanding compliance issues will be resolved," he said.

Maynard’s sudden departure drew a mixed reaction from observers.

Emily Washington, who as a lawyer at the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans represents the jail inmates before Africk, said Maynard had been a disappointment.

“Gary Maynard’s tenure has been marked with a deterioration of the conditions in the jail, not progress. Unfortunately, he did not overhaul the senior leadership or culture at the jail, and the long-broken systems remain unchanged,” she said. "We hope that with Director Maynard’s departure we can finally begin to fix the significant but correctable problems at the jail which place people’s lives at risk everyday.”

On the other hand, Rafael Goyeneche, the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the ills outlined in the latest monitors’ report were not Maynard’s fault. Goyeneche sat on a committee that helped Gusman pick Maynard for the job.

“I thought he was clearly the best choice, but the problems with this jail are more than just with the leader,” Goyeneche said. “You don’t turn this aircraft carrier around in 15 months, and that’s not because of any deficiencies on his part.”

Gusman thanked Maynard in a statement.

"His accomplishments resulted in long sought-after pay increases for deputies, a significant increase in budget appropriations, and progress on plans for operational improvements. We will continue to build on the improvements made by Director Maynard, and we wish him well in his future endeavors," Gusman said.

Maynard was instrumental in repairing the relationship between the Sheriff's Office and the administration of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, which had deteriorated badly. A city spokesman thanked him in a statement.

"The City of New Orleans thanks Gary Maynard for his service and for taking on this incredibly difficult task. We appreciate all of his hard work and wish him the best in his future endeavors," said Tyronne Walker.

Hodge, who will become acting compliance director next month, is an Army veteran and former police officer who led two large jails in Virginia before retiring. Until Monday, Hodge had served on the team of monitors appointed by Africk.

Hodge has been critical of the jail’s management in the past. At the 2016 hearing that led the judge to strip Gusman of his powers, Hodge said he saw inmates sleeping on the floor or using their hands in lieu of toilet paper on one tour.

“It seems that staff did not have psychological control of the facility,” Hodge said, “and as a result, they did not have physical control of the facility.”

More than two years after the Sheriff’s Office opened the $150 million Orleans Justice Center, similar problems persist. They will now be Hodge’s to solve.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432