After a female prison guard at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel accused an inmate of raping her at knifepoint last summer, detectives reviewed surveillance video that supported her account — showing the inmate approach the woman forcefully from behind and drag her into a bathroom.
The St. Gabriel police chief, whose detectives investigated the case, said the video is unambiguous: "That young lady clearly was raped."
A grand jury, however, did not agree. The panel rendered the following decisions last month based on evidence presented by prosecutors: an indictment for the guard and no charges for the inmate.
Grand jury deliberations are secret and law enforcement officials have offered little explanation of the decisions. Interviews and public records nonetheless shed some light on the case.
Deshunta Miller, 21, was indicted on a count of malfeasance in office, a charge pertaining to an alleged sexual relationship with a different inmate at the prison, not the one she accused of rape. She was also fired from the state Department of Corrections after just eight months on the job.
Miller's attorney, Travis Turner, denied her guilt and upheld her account of the sexual assault. He blamed DOC for failing to adequately protect its employees from the inmates they supervise and creating a dangerous workplace environment.
"The malfeasance investigation occurred after the rape. We believe this was an attempt to discredit Ms. Miller," Turner said. "It seems that DOC is more interested in protecting themselves than in protecting the victim."
The man Miller accused of rape is Erick Dehart, 29, who was serving 30 years for armed robbery out of Terrebonne Parish and five years for simple burglary out of Lafourche Parish at Elayn Hunt. Immediately after the alleged sexual assault occurred July 17, he was arrested on an additional count of aggravated rape, which carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The recent grand jury decision allowed him to escape that charge and retain his original sentence.
Prosecutors with the 18th Judicial District confirmed the grand jury decisions Tuesday. Officials said Miller initially told detectives with the St. Gabriel Police Department that she was raped, which resulted in Dehart's arrest.
After a female prison guard at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel accused an inmate of raping her at knifepoint last summer, the re…
Police reports reveal more details about the initial investigation, including descriptions of the video footage.
The video shows that Dehart "somehow exits his cell" and later appears to remove something from the front of his jumpsuit while approaching Miller from behind. He places his left arm around her and "with his right hand, he places an object to Miller's throat," according to the police reports. Then "Miller tries to push away" but Dehart grabs her arm while she continues trying to resist.
They end up in the bathroom for about 20 minutes while "the alleged rape took place," according to the reports. The incident itself wasn't caught on camera.
Miller told detectives that Dehart had dragged her into the bathroom at knifepoint, forced her to the floor and raped her, telling her that "if she screamed he was going to kill her." She said he punched her in the mouth and threatened to stab her during the assault.
Records show that Miller provided the same account of the incident in two separate statements, first to police and later to the nurse who performed her sexual assault examination at Woman's Hospital. An investigator described her emotional status as "tearful, awake, alert, cooperative and distraught" on one form related to the sexual assault probe.
Investigators searched Dehart's cell and found a homemade weapon that matched her description of the knife.
St. Gabriel Police Chief Kevin Ambeau said Wednesday his detectives found more than enough evidence to support Dehart's arrest.
"Nobody could look at that tape and say she wasn't raped," he said. "You don't put a shank to somebody's neck and say she wasn't raped."
But not long after St. Gabriel police arrested Dehart, the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office received a tip that Miller had a relationship with another inmate, according to Maj. Ronnie Hebert with the sheriff's office.
Hebert said detectives used phone records to gain insight into the relationship and gathered enough evidence to support Miller's arrest. He said detectives also interviewed Dehart during their investigation.
Officials declined to release more details about that investigation on Tuesday, citing the ongoing criminal case. Miller was booked into jail on the malfeasance count about one month after Dehart was booked on rape.
"I can confirm that this case consists of some strange facts, and those facts will have to play out in court," said Tony Clayton, first assistant district attorney for the 18th Judicial District. "The evidence has taken us down some unexpected roads."
He said those strange twists caused prosecutors to "totally reevaluate the case" during their investigation and the grand jury process.
Miller recently declined to testify before the grand jury, foregoing an opportunity to present her side of the story. Clayton said that decision dealt a blow to the case against Dehart. Though he declined to comment further on the grand jury decision because the proceedings are confidential, Clayton said a district attorney's most sacred duty is to avoid prosecuting innocent people.
"The first element of rape is lack of consent. In order to prove that, I need the victim to testify," he said. "Believe you me, if the evidence were there, our office would prosecute this case in a heartbeat. … But the grand jury knows best."
Prosecutors do not plan to bring any charges against either Dehart or the second unnamed inmate whose alleged relationship with Miller prompted the malfeasance allegations, Clayton said. That inmate could be asked to testify against her if the case goes to trial. Under Louisiana law, prison and jail inmates are "deemed incapable" of giving consent to sex with guards.
Miller's attorney said she chose not to testify before the grand jury because she would have faced questions about the case against herself in addition to the one against Dehart, and furthermore she didn't want to relive the traumatic experience of the assault. He believes prosecutors had ample evidence to support an indictment on the rape charge even without his client's testimony.
Ambeau, the St. Gabriel police chief, also takes issue with how prosecutors handled the grand jury proceedings. He said his officers were told not to testify, even though they're the ones who arrested Dehart in the first place — a claim that prosecutors said they couldn't comment on because the proceedings are secret.
In addition to disputing the charges against Miller, her attorney pointed to inadequate staffing levels and other security concerns at Elayn Hunt, which he said placed his client in a vulnerable position and thwarted her attempts to call for help. He claimed she pushed a panic button but received no assistance. He said those allegations will likely play out in civil court.
He also said Miller started receiving worker's compensation payments after the alleged assault, and those payments haven't stopped since her arrest and termination.
DOC officials declined to comment on the worker's comp issue or anything else related to the case, saying all information should come from law enforcement and prosecutors. That was after the department denied a recent public records request for inmate disciplinary reports, internal affairs investigations, staffing policies and more. DOC attorneys cited ongoing investigations and security concerns in their denial letter.
Miller had joined the department as a corrections officer in November 2019 and was still a probationary employee when she was fired. Being on probation means the department can terminate someone without cause; otherwise officials must document their reasons for the decision and follow other civil service rules.
DOC has long struggled to hire and retain prison guards, who receive relatively low wages and work around the clock. Instances of contraband smuggling and illicit relationships with inmates are not uncommon, though the department has pledged repeatedly that rooting out dishonest corrections officers is one of its top priorities.