Amid a series of investigations centering on outgoing Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain, the prison’s longtime head of internal investigations has told The Advocate that he is retiring.
Kenneth Norris, 71 — who is married to Cain’s niece, Diann — said he had been interviewed in recent days by officials from the State Police and the state Inspector General’s Office, two of the agencies investigating the warden.
Norris’ departure also comes a few days after The Advocate filed a public-records request seeking information about his comings and goings at the state’s largest prison, where, as an assistant warden, he earns a salary of $92,872 a year.
Norris said, however, that it’s his poor health, rather than the scrutiny of his wife’s uncle, that prompted his departure. He said he has had heart and lung surgery this year and “can’t do the job anymore.”
“I’m leaving because of my health, not because of the investigation,” he said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just time for me to go.”
He added: “But I’m tired of all the crap, and it’s working on my health.”
A recent analysis found that less than 40 percent of his heart was working, Norris added, saying, “I’m just going off to die.” He said Tuesday was his last official day at work, though with accrued sick time, he expects to be paid through February.
The State Police and the Inspector General’s Office announced recently that they are collaborating on a criminal investigation that centers on Cain, though they have not said what allegations they are exploring.
The state’s legislative auditor also is looking into questions raised last month by The Advocate about Cain’s real estate dealings in West Feliciana Parish and whether they violated Department of Public Safety and Corrections rules barring non-work relationships between correctional staff members and relatives and friends of inmates. Cain had two business partners with close relationships to state prisoners, both of whom received favorable treatment from the warden. The Corrections Department also is looking into those dealings.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, told reporters that as part of the criminal probe into Cain, investigators are examining timesheets of some of Angola’s nearly 2,000 employees. Norris is one of the prison’s 16 assistant wardens.
Norris told The Advocate he believes investigators are looking into possible payroll fraud and that he was interviewed in part because he has been exempted from the timesheets.
“I’m not tied to the gate log,” he said, referring to documents kept by the prison that show the comings and goings of employees and others. “That’s in my job description. I come in and out of the gate whenever I want to. I can go see whoever I want to, as long as it has to do with Angola business.”
The maximum-security prison generally keeps strict track of everyone who enters and leaves the grounds. A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Public Safety did not respond to questions about whether Norris was in fact exempted from the timesheets, and how many other employees, if any, enjoyed a similar status.
Norris said he began working for the Corrections Department roughly 15 years ago. Before that, he was a lieutenant colonel in the State Police, where he worked more than three decades.
Norris came under fire in the late 1990s, toward the end of his State Police career, when a Lake Charles troop commander who reported to him was accused of malfeasance for allegedly using inmates to do work around his home for several years. A grand jury declined to indict Norris and a colleague.
Sometime after Norris arrived at Angola, he said, Cain asked him to build an internal investigative unit, similar to those that most police departments have. He eventually built a seven-person team that, “as far as I’m concerned, is better than many police departments,” he said.
Norris married Cain’s niece, Diann, in 2005. He met her while checking out a John Deere tractor at the warden’s request, he said.
Diann Norris is the daughter of Cain’s oldest brother, Alton. The Cains come from Pitkin, a town in Vernon Parish, nearly three hours from Angola, and that’s where Norris said he and Diann have made their home for the last decade. He said he stays at the prison during the workweek.
Susan Wall Griffin, an attorney for the Corrections Department, on Tuesday denied The Advocate’s request for records related to Norris. Among other things, the newspaper had sought a copy of any waiver that permitted him to work off-site, as well as timesheets or gate logs that showed when he entered and left the prison.
Griffin’s letter asserted that “these documents are privileged information” and thus not subject to the state’s public-records law. The letter did not cite a specific legal privilege.
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.