SHREVEPORT — Handcuffed inmates screamed and groaned in pain, begging for the beatings to stop as Iberia Parish Sheriff's deputies swung metal batons and as a dog was held snarling and growling in their faces.
At the start of Sheriff Louis Ackal's trial on civil rights abuses Monday, federal prosecutor Joseph Jarzabek laid out a chaotic scene of an April 2011 contraband sweep at the Iberia Parish jail that quickly turned brutal after an inmate mouthed off to a deputy.
Overseeing it all was the sheriff himself, Jarzabek told jurors.
"He was like a cheerleader, screaming that this was his jail and he was sheriff," the prosecutor said.
Ackal, who was elected to a third term last year, is accused in a broad probe of abuse and cover-ups dating back to first days in office eight years ago.
Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal took office in 2008 with a pledge to restore what he felt …
Many of the allegations are tied to the 2011 contraband sweep, where prosecutors allege Ackal directed beatings and was physically present while at least two inmates were abused.
After an inmate made a lewd comment to a deputy during the 2011 sweep, Jarzabek said, the sheriff told his men to "take care of that for me, baby," the spark that allegedly set off a series of beatings as inmates were taken in turn to the jail's chapel, a location chosen because there were no surveillance cameras.
"What followed was nothing short of brutal," Jarzabek said.
Prosecutors also say the abuse was not confined to the jail.
Ackal is accused of ordering deputies to arrest and rough up a man who had assaulted one of his relatives, and one of his top supervisors is accused of sticking a gun in man's mouth and threatening to kill him for fighting with a narcotics agent during an arrest.
When three off-duty deputies got drunk one night and decided to beat up two young black men for no reason, Jarzabek said, Ackal showed little interest in disciplining his men when they came to his office to confess their mistake.
Jarzabek said Ackal told the deputies, "It sounds like a good old n***** knockin' to me," and then had a report about the incident deleted.
The sheriff later ordered all of his department's internal affairs records destroyed to prevent any of the files from becoming public and then disbanded the internal affairs unit, prosecutors allege.
Jurors will likely hear the tales of abuse and cover-ups directly from those involved.
Ten deputies have pleaded guilty in the investigation, and several are set to testify against Ackal in a trial expected to last roughly two weeks.
Ackal's attorney, John McLindon, told jurors on Monday they should be wary of what those deputies say, considering all are awaiting sentencing and likely trying to win favor with prosecutors.
He referred to a case relying heavily on the testimony of convicted deputies as "paycheck prosecution" and said the witnesses "really hope to be compensated for that story."
A longtime Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office supervisor who was scheduled to go on trial next w…
McLindon characterized Ackal as a no-nonsense law enforcement veteran whose tough tactics might have led some deputies to believe abuse would be tolerated, even if the sheriff never directed abuse or condoned crossing the line.
"Sheriff Ackal is not Andy Griffith, but Iberia Parish is not Mayberry," McLindon told jurors. "… They used it as a license, in their minds, to justify their illegal behavior."
McLindon also told jurors that Ackal is "never there when they are doing these things."
The overall case is built around Ackal's alleged role in directing and encouraging abuse, turning a blind eye to it and covering it up, but prosecutors do allege he was present for at least two inmate beatings.
And the first prosecution witness in the case testified he saw Ackal in the jail's chapel during two inmate beatings during the April 2011 contraband sweep, though the witness had difficulty remembering other details.
"Yes, sir, I know the sheriff was definitely there," said Alphons Burrell, a Franklin police officer who worked at the Iberia Parish jail in 2011.
Burrell, who was not charged in the case, said he felt bad about the inmate abuse but didn't feel he could intervene.
"If the sheriff didn't stop it, who was I to stop it," he said.
The trial, which is being held in Shreveport, is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday.