West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes

West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes 

Though Louisiana State Police exonerated West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes in an inmate labor investigation, the initial findings of a separate and ongoing Department of Corrections probe show there were some problems.

State Police concluded in its report that no probable cause exists to criminally charge Cazes in an incident involving Department of Corrections inmate Elmer Castillo.

But the report also cites the concurrent Department of Corrections investigation that concludes Cazes violated a law concerning private contractors using inmate labor, as well as “some DOC standard operating procedures.”

The agencies have been investigating allegations from WAFB-TV that Cazes had enlisted Castillo to work at his home in Port Allen at least one day in March.

Castillo, who is serving time for sexual battery, was housed at the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail's work release center under a common agreement between parishes and the state in which DOC pays local entities for beds at their jails. As a convicted sex offender, Castillo was not a work-release inmate.

Scott Stassi, the first assistant district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, said that because the State Police investigation produced a finding of no criminal wrongdoing, there is nothing for his office to prosecute. He added that State Police sent their findings to the District Attorney’s Office.

DOC spokesman Ken Pastorick confirmed that they began their investigation into Cazes and his facility after the allegation surfaced.

“We handed over our initial investigation to Louisiana State Police that includes information that we found that might be of legal concern,” Pastorick said. “We are continuing to look at the facility to make sure that the basic jail guidelines are being adhered to.”

He added that the DOC investigation continues into the facility “as a whole,” but because the probe is ongoing, he could not release more details.

The State Police report says DOC Deputy Warden Ronald Moore relayed his findings to State Police investigator Bill Cox to assist him in the State Police inquiry.

Though Cox used Moore’s extensive interviews of both Cazes and Castillo in the course of his review, he arrived at a different conclusion.

Cazes told DOC that Castillo had sought him out to ask about ways he could make some money, the State Police report says. Cazes explained that, in response, he had “specifically chosen” Castillo to assist him on the morning of March 8.

That morning, the sheriff picked up Castillo in a West Baton Rouge Parish Prison cargo van and drove to a store, where Cazes had Castillo load a baby crib into the van. When they arrived at Cazes’ home, he directed Castillo in arranging furniture to make room for the crib and then to assemble the crib in the new space, the State Police report says.

At some point while Castillo was putting the crib together, Cazes left for lunch, leaving Castillo alone with the sheriff's wife for about half an hour. It was only later, when Castillo took the crib packaging outside, he spotted the WAFB cameras and alerted Cazes, the report says.

Cazes admitted he shepherded Castillo through a back gate to be picked up in the West Baton Rouge Parish Prison van on a street behind his house. For his efforts, Castillo received “35 or 40 dollars,” the report says.

Castillo’s bilingual interview — conducted by DOC in both English and Spanish on separate days — confirms most of the details of Cazes’ story, according to the State Police report.

While Cox, the State Police investigator, acknowledged in the report that the facts of the case are clear, he said his goal was not to confirm or deny that an incident happened: He needed to determine if Cazes broke the law.

After parsing the legal details, Cox concluded in the report that Cazes is neither classified as a private contractor, nor did he act with criminal intent.

“The report speaks for itself and the District Attorney supports our findings,” State Police Capt. J.B. Slaton via text when asked for comment.

Thomas Damico, Cazes’ attorney, noted that the DOC is neither a prosecuting nor investigative agency, and so it passed on its findings to the State Police, which is equipped for such an investigation. Damico added that he and Cazes “cooperated completely” with the investigation.

“Mike Cazes did nothing wrong,” Damico said. “There may have been some issues; there was never any intent. He didn’t violate the law itself.”

Follow Jacqueline DeRobertis on Twitter, @jmderobertis.