A federal civil court jury on Thursday ordered a former Louisiana State Penitentiary guard to pay a former Angola prisoner $750,000 for a series of sexual assaults on the inmate in early 2014.
The paroled man’s attorneys said they hope the verdict against Tyler Holliday sends a strong message to the corrections community that the type of conduct the jury found he engaged in won’t be tolerated. The former guard never faced criminal charges in those incidents.
“Rape is not part of the sentence,” Joe Long, with co-counsel Carmen Hebert at his side, said in the lobby of the federal courthouse in downtown Baton Rouge.
The eight-person jury, however, said the former inmate did not prove that then-Angola Warden Burl Cain and two other wardens at the prison failed to protect him from substantial risk of harm. The panel deliberated for more than 4 hours.
“I’m happy for us,” Cain, the former longtime Angola warden, said as he and deputy warden Joseph Lemartiniere left U.S. District Judge John deGravelles’ courtroom. Deputy warden Leslie Dupont, who also was cleared of any wrongdoing, was not at the trial Thursday.
The former prisoner alleged in a lawsuit against Cain, Dupont, Lemartiniere and Holliday that he filed a complaint with Angola officials on March 13, 2014, but wasn't moved to another state prison until March 24, 2014.
The ex-inmate claimed Holliday forced him to perform oral sex on him seven times, the last time coming on March 22, 2014 — after his complaint was filed.
Holliday resigned on March 26, 2014, amid the prison's investigation into the inmate's claims and was arrested three months later, but not based on the prisoner's allegations. He was booked on malfeasance in office after telling West Feliciana Parish Sheriff's deputies he had masturbated at work, an arrest report stated.
Holliday was not formally charged with a crime but was allowed to enter a pretrial program designed for first-time offenders of nonviolent crimes that does not require an admission of guilt for eligibility purposes.
Holliday, who denied the former inmate’s allegations, was never criminally charged with sexual assault. An internal review by corrections officials of the inmate's allegations found them to be unsubstantiated.
“We abide by the jury’s verdict,” Long said Thursday. “They’re holding the rapist accountable. We had hoped they would hold the wardens accountable.”
Holliday was ordered to pay the former inmate $500,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $250,000 in punitive damages, which are meant to punish conduct.
Holliday’s trial attorney, Courtney Joiner, did not comment on the jury’s finding.
The Advocate has not identified the former inmate because he is a sexual assault victim. The man, who was serving time at Angola on a manslaughter conviction, is now on parole and no longer in state custody.
In 2017, deGravelles ruled that the inmate should have been immediately moved to another prison or Holliday should have been swiftly reassigned after the complaint was filed. The judge wrote that the decision to move the inmate from Angola "is certainly evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer, despite lack of specificity as to whom Holliday was sexually assaulting, that the Defendants knew or reasonably believed that (he) was the target — or, perhaps, one of many targets — of Holliday's attacks."
Last year, a federal appeals court said the former inmate's version of the facts "supports a finding that the wardens acted with deliberate indifference when they inferred he was Holliday's victim, chose to transfer him, but disregarded the immediate risk by failing to protect him for the five days before the transfer was completed." The inmate alleged Cain was told of his complaint on March 19, 2014, but he wasn’t moved to another prison until March 24, 2019.
Cain announced in late 2015 that he was stepping down. His abrupt announcement came after a probe by The Advocate that revealed his business ties to a family member of an Angola inmate and to the close friend of another inmate at the same prison.