Tangipahoa jail

Tangipahoa Parish Jail (Photo via Google Maps on Feb. 8, 2017). 

A man who claims he was brutally beaten, forced to sleep on the floor and fight other inmates in the Tangipahoa Parish Jail has sued Sheriff Daniel Edwards, former jail warden Stuart Murphy and other deputies in New Orleans federal court.

The lawsuit was filed Friday by Joseph Martin, who spent two months in the jail in late 2017 and early 2018 after a traffic stop. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge.

After being arrested, the lawsuit alleges, Martin was placed in the "X tier," which had 28 inmates but only 24 beds. That shortage, he said, caused inmates to fight for beds, and he ended up sleeping on the floor for a week, according to the lawsuit.

Martin was also terrorized by gang members in his tier, who ordered him to fight with his cellmate. If he refused, the gang members would beat them up, the suit says.

The gang members also ordered him to use the broken wheel of a cart to create a hole in a jail wall through which drugs could be passed. Later, inmates cornered him in the jail and ordered him to cut himself so he could be sent to the hospital, where he would be given drugs to smuggle into the jail.

Martin repeatedly refused and was beaten for his refusals, the lawsuit says. His repeated pleas for help or a transfer to another tier were ignored or dismissed by jail guards, Murphy and others, the suit says. 

On Jan. 15, 2018, Martin was beaten unconscious by four inmates while in the tier, the suit says. He was later found by deputies, who saw him lying on the floor and dragged him to the front of the jail, according to the suit.

From there, he was taken to Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center, where doctors noted cuts, broken facial bones and broken orbital bones. He was sent to University Medical Center in New Orleans for surgery. He remains blind in his right eye, and a titanium plate was placed in his face to stabilize broken bones, the suit says. During his recovery, a Tangipahoa deputy came to the hospital to tell him he was being released on his own recognizance, the suit says.

Several times during his stay in the jail, Martin submitted paperwork to move, but deputies told him that they "never look at" those forms, the suit alleges.

Martin also saw other victims of beatings by the gang seek help by banging on the windows of the guard station. Martin overheard an unnamed deputy telling one beating victim that he wouldn't be moved out of the tier if he "beat on the window like a bitch," the suit says.

Edwards, the sheriff, declined to comment on the suit, saying he hadn't seen it.

Martin's account is consistent with other suits filed by former inmates at the Amite facility.

In February 2017, Tommy Joe Smith, who was in the jail on a probation violation, was beaten to death by as many as a dozen inmates in what one prisoner referred to as a "shark feeding frenzy." Eleven men and one juvenile were later booked with crimes related to the killing. It also prompted Edwards to announce later that year that Murphy would be transferred and Hellary Greene would take over running the jail. 

Later that year, a transgender woman alleged that she had been beaten and repeatedly raped by inmates at the jail while guards ignored her pleas for help and requests to be segregated from other inmates.

In a 2014 suit, an inmate accused a deputy of standing by while a rape occurred in a jail shower. That inmate claimed that when he banged on the window of the guard station, a guard told him to "sit down and shut up."

Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office brass are aware of the problems, the suit says. Edwards and Murphy "were aware of the existence of a disproportionately high level of inmate-on-inmate violence at the (jail) yet they failed to take steps to address this issue and reduce the amount of violence," the suit says.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown. 


Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.