Sheriff Louis Ackal trial

Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal (L) leaves the US District Court in Shreveport, La with his attorney John McLindon following jury selection Monday in his trial.

Former Iberia Parish Sheriff's narcotics agent Wade Bergeron recalled a drug suspect kneeling on the ground on an isolated rural road, ordered to hold a bullet in his mouth while Bergeron's screaming supervisor threatened the trembling man's life.

Bergeron, who testified Wednesday in Sheriff Louis Ackal's federal trial on civil rights abuses, said the suspect had fought during the arrest, and his supervisor, Gerald Savoy, wasn't pleased.

When the shaking suspect dropped the bullet, Savoy stuck his revolver in the man's mouth, berating him and threatening to kill him if he ever fought again with an Iberia Parish deputy.

Jurors have heard tale after tale after shocking tale of law enforcement gone awry in three days of testimony, many of the stories coming directly from some of the 10 deputies who have pleaded guilty in the federal investigation, a list that includes Bergeron and Savoy.

Deputies have said inmates were beaten without reason, sometimes in the presence of Ackal. One inmate was forced to simulate oral sex on a baton.

Deputies arrested and beat one man because he punched a supervisor at a bar. Any suspect who ran was in line for an extra knee or punch to his ribs.

Former deputies who served on the department's narcotics unit, described more than once as Ackal's "baby," have admitted the unit roughed up suspects with what those deputies allege was the implicit and sometimes explicit approval of Ackal.

"Chase them. Catch them. Tune them up," Bergeron said, using a term that several deputies have testified was code for excessive force. "At the time, it was just what we did. I never thought about it being appropriate or inappropriate.

Bret Broussard, a former narcotics agent who also has pleaded guilty, told jurors of how he gave his baton the nickname of a man he had struck with it: Walter.

"He kept running his mouth to us," Broussard said.

Bergeron said he and another deputy would sometimes assault people on the street for no reason and take their money.

Bergeron also told jurors a story that other deputies have testified was legendary at the Sheriff's Office, what he said was a lesson that the narcotics unit could do whatever it wanted and Ackal would protect them.

Bergeron said he and two other deputies were drinking one night at a party and decided to go find some people to beat up for no reason.

They happened upon two young black men, 16 and 21.

"That was the first people we came across," Bergeron said.

After Bergeron and the others came clean with a supervisor about the incident, Bergeron said, they were told they needed to tell the sheriff.

"His remark was it sounds like a case of nigger knockin'," Bergeron recalled.

It's a remark that at least one other deputy testified hearing about as the story made its way around the department.

Bergeron said Ackal's comment "broke the mood" of the meeting, because he realized he probably was not going to get in much trouble.

He said the sheriff told his men to stick with an earlier cover story about having no involvement in the assault.

"We were told that's the story we were going to tell," Bergeron said.

The only discipline he received was to be temporarily moved out of narcotics and placed on patrol, Bergeron said, and he had little concern after that incident of facing serious consequences for anything he did.

"Because you were protected?" asked federal prosecutor Mark Blumberg.

"Yes," Bergeron responded.

"By whom?" Blumberg asked.

"The sheriff," Bergeron said.

Prosecutors have said a report written by patrol deputies who responded to the assault of the young men and naming the Bergeron and others as suspects was later deleted at Ackal's direction.

It was one of many alleged cover-ups.

Deputies who took the stand this week have admitted lying under oath in lawsuits filed over inmate abuse and doctoring incident reports to justify excessive force.

One time after Bergeron and other narcotics agents beat up a suspect, Bergeron said, he walked into a room with a supervisor and other agents talking about a report he had filed saying the suspect had hit him, a justification for his use of force.

"They were discussing that someone had to be hit for the report to read accurately," Bergeron said.

He said one of the other agents then reached over and struck in the neck hard enough to leave a mark.

They took a picture of the injury and filed it with the report.

"Photos are worth a thousands words," Bergeron said.

Much of the testimony in the first three days of Ackal's trial has focused on the actions of his deputies.

But Ackal, who took office in 2008, has been portrayed as the enabler, a leader who allegedly turned a blind eye to abuse, sometimes encouraged it and sometimes helped cover it up.

Ackal's attorney, John McLindon, has argued the case is built on the testimony of deputies who have pleaded guilty and are now trying to win lighter sentences by testifying against their former boss.

McLindon has noted more than once how deputies were less than truthful when first contacted by FBI agents in the investigation.

"So you will lie to try to stay out of jail," McLindon asked Bergeron.

"Yes, sir," he said.

Testimony in the trial, which is expected to last week, is scheduled to continue Thursday in Shreveport, where the case was moved because the judge feared intense media coverage in the Lafayette area might have made it difficult to find an impartial jury.


Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.​