Only one sheriff's office in Louisiana has used a self-insurance program for sheriffs to pay sexual harassment and discrimination claims over the last decade. That's the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office, and it did so on two occasions.
The Sheriff’s Office’s claims totaled $431,500, with most of that going to the plaintiff in a 2015 federal lawsuit who claimed her superior repeatedly harassed her and retaliated when she complained. The plaintiff also claimed that Sheriff Louis Ackal tolerated and participated in the retaliation.
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That lawsuit settled in August 2016 for $409,000 and was paid from the Risk Management Program of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Law Enforcement Program.
The risk management program is a voluntary self-insurance pool set up via state law to protect against public liability. The Advocate requested records pertaining to settlements of any sexual harassment and discrimination claims since 2008, and the Iberia Parish settlement records were the only ones returned.
Forty-five of the 64 sheriff’s offices in Louisiana participate in the self-insurance program, so it’s possible that non-participating sheriff’s offices separately settled sexual harassment and discrimination claims. It's also possible that participating sheriff's offices used other insurance to pay settlements.
The plaintiff in the 2016 Iberia Parish settlement claimed that, starting in January 2013, the chief of the criminal department at the time, Bert Berry, “egregiously” harassed her for 10 months. The alleged harassment included rubbing himself against her, unwanted kisses and vulgar comments and gestures.
The day after the plaintiff complained to human resources, Ackal read a letter to the plaintiff containing false allegations against her, according to the lawsuit, including that she had exposed herself in public. The lawsuit further alleges that Berry then gave raises to three employees who intimidated her by following her around with a video camera, falsely accusing her of forgery and blaming her for egging on Berry.
The plaintiff complained to Ackal, according to the lawsuit, but the sheriff did nothing to stop the retaliation. Berry retired about two years after the alleged harassment began, and the plaintiff left the Sheriff’s Office soon after.
The Advocate generally does not name alleged victims of sexual harassment without the consent of the alleged victim. Lafayette lawyer Jason Welborn, who represented the plaintiff, did not return multiple calls. Berry did not return calls for comment about the claims made against him in the lawsuit.
The other claim from the self-insurance fund to the Sheriff’s Office pertained to a 2009 sexual harassment lawsuit in 16th Judicial District Court in which three plaintiffs accused a chief deputy, Toby Hebert, of sexual harassment. The plaintiffs settled their claims four years later for $7,500 apiece.
Ackal “temporarily fired” Hebert, who later testified against Ackal in his 2016 criminal trial on civil rights charges, according to KATC. A jury acquitted Ackal.
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Attempts to reach Hebert were unsuccessful.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Wendell Raborn declined comment.