West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes

West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes 

The state Department of Corrections has launched an investigation into whether West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes used a state inmate to complete yard work at his private home.

DOC spokesman Ken Pastorick said Thursday that the investigation is in its early stages, but there are no circumstances under which an inmate — even those who complete work off-site under a work release program — would be assigned to a personal residence.

Television station WAFB reported this week that inmate Elmer Castillo, 32, was recently seen completing yard work at Cazes’ Port Allen home. Castillo appeared to be unsupervised and using a West Baton Rouge Parish van.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Zack Simmers said the department wouldn't comment because the matter allegedly involved the sheriff's home and a state inmate, not a parish inmate. Cazes had not returned calls from The Advocate as of Thursday afternoon.

Court records show an East Baton Rouge Parish jury found Castillo guilty of sexual battery in November, and he was sentenced to five years hard labor. He was accused of abusing a 13-year-old girl, according to his arrest report. He was assigned a translator for the trial.

Castillo was most recently housed at West Baton Rouge Parish’s work release program facility, but was not a work release inmate, Pastorick said.

Castillo has since been relocated to Dixon Correctional Institution in Jackson because of the misconduct accusation.

State Police spokesman Trooper Taylor Scrantz said Thursday his agency is not currently investigating the alleged misconduct.

He said State Police do typically handle law enforcement agency investigations, but at this time they are not involved in this case.

It’s not unusual for state inmates to be housed at local jail facilities. Pastorick said 33,000 state inmates are spread out among local and private facilities with a $24.39 per day, per-inmate fee paid to the housing institution.

He said 420 inmates were housed at West Baton Rouge Parish facilities as of Thursday, with 208 of those allocated to the work release center and the remainder at the jail.

Pastorick said it’s not known whether more inmates could be involved in the same conduct as Castillo, but that’s part of the scope of their investigation. If wrongdoing is found, Pastorick said the department would likely hand off their findings to a law enforcement agency.

The accusation is the latest in a string of issues stemming from the parish’s work release facility, which has in the past year seen multiple inmates escape and several deputies criminally charged on misconduct allegations.

Most recently, the sheriff's office held a press conference in December announcing the arrest of work release employees Dimple Jones, Michael Lafayette, James McClurg and Taija Pearly on malfeasance in office counts. Pearly faced an additional count of sexual conduct with a prisoner.

Pearly, McClurg and Lafayette all were work-release deputies who officials claim accepted bribes and transported an inmate during a night shift to Port Allen to have sex with Pearly.

Jones was not accused of being involved in the bribery scheme, but is thought to have played a part in an inmate’s October 2018 escape while she worked at the detention center. All cases are ongoing in court.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Dale Simoneaux said at the time that a 2016 audit showed deputies were lax in conducting headcounts, leading to 22 inmates assigned to West Baton Rouge Parish walking away from job sites or escaping between 2013 and 2015.

The site accounted for roughly 8 percent of the state’s reported jail escapes during that same time period.

Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter, @byemmakennedy.