Angola inmate argues that three decades in solitary is unconstitutional punishment _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Warden Burl Cain talks about the sugar cane operation at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2015 as inmates and corrections staff work together to make syrup from cane planted on the prison's grounds.

Two investigations into Burl Cain have cleared the former warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola of wrongdoing, with a criminal probe by the state Inspector General’s Office concluding he did not improperly use his employees to perform home renovations.

The investigations into Cain were launched by the inspector general and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections after reports in The Advocate chronicled some of his personal business dealings, which involved people with relationships to state inmates. Cain abruptly resigned in the wake of the coverage.

A third probe by the State Police was launched around the same time to look at one of Cain’s relatives, also an Angola employee, who had been accused of payroll fraud. He too was cleared.

The claims against Cain ranged from his allegedly ordering employees to do construction work on his personal houses on the state’s dime to extracting a deathbed confession from one offender to help another preferred inmate.

The investigations did not find evidence to support the claims, the documents issued Tuesday show.

But the agencies made some recommendations to help the corrections department avoid similar conflicts and in one case said the former warden should have used better judgment.

The internal corrections report didn’t contradict The Advocate’s findings about Cain’s real estate transactions or relationships with those close to inmates. Instead, the report suggested editing the wording of certain rules. In light of those changes and a closer interpretation of the policies, Cain wasn’t in violation of rules, the department found.

Cain did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a memorandum to corrections Secretary James Leblanc, dated Jan. 13, undersecretary Thomas Bickham cited The Advocate’s reporting and wrote Cain did not disobey certain internal rules governing employees’ relationships with inmates.

Specifically, Cain’s business partnership with Charles Chatelain, the stepfather of double murderer Jason Lormand, an Angola inmate, did not violate rules barring “non-professional relationships with offenders or with offenders’ family and friends,” Bickham wrote. This is because that rule is understood to refer primarily to sexual relationships, he concluded.

The department also found Cain didn’t breach that policy with respect to William Ourso, another real estate partner who was a close friend of a separate inmate, Leonard Nicholas.

And though Cain recorded a confession that purportedly absolved Nicholas in the murder for which he was convicted, Cain didn’t violate any internal rules in doing so, in Bickham’s view. However, Cain “should have used better judgment and left the security of the confession up to other criminal justice professionals,” Bickham found.

As for “non-professional relationships,” Bickham wrote, “the longstanding consensus in the department of this rule is that it is intended to prohibit an employee from entering into a secretive personal and/or romantic relationship with an offender or member of that offender’s family.”

Bickham suggested the corrections department change the phrasing of its policy to specifically ban romantic or clandestine personal relationships. He also advised amending the rule to clarify that while outside business ties could in some cases compromise a working relationship, that rule applies to relationships with offenders — or their families — who are under an employee’s direct supervision.

In other words, the policy would apparently not apply to high-ranking officials such as Cain.

The internal review was conducted Dec. 22 by Bickham, deputy director of probation and parole Jamie Lee, and Sandy McCain, warden of Rayburn Correctional Center.

In a section about Ourso, Bickham instructed officials to delete references to “friend” in the policy that bans relationships with those close to inmates.

“There is no set definition of what constitutes a friend,” Bickham wrote.

Bickham also noted Cain’s and Ourso’s business links began before Ourso began advocating for Nicholas, the inmate.

No evidence showed Cain helped Lormand win an assignment to the State Police Barracks, often considered a more favorable post for well-behaved inmates, Bickham wrote.

Lormand was assigned to the barracks over two years prior to Cain’s and Chatelain’s arrangement, Bickham noted. Once inmates are transferred to State Police supervision, the department has no input into their job assignments, he wrote.

Criminal investigators for Inspector General Stephen Street looked into whether Cain ordered corrections employees to do construction work on his personal houses and whether he directed Angola security personnel to drive his wife’s state-issued vehicle while on patrol in order to make it look like she was working when she was not.

In a letter to LeBlanc dated Tuesday, Street said that his investigators also examined allegations that Cain showed preferential treatment to an inmate by removing documents from the offender’s file that would have prevented his assignment to the barracks. It appears that inmate is Lormand.

Street’s investigators found nothing to confirm any of the allegations, he wrote.

However, in reference to the construction work on Cain’s houses, he advised the corrections department should “more closely regulate off-duty relationships between supervisors and their subordinates in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.” The employees told the inspector general investigators that “they were compensated by Cain for the work performed” and were not on the state clock, Street said.

Street also wrote corrections officials should conduct an internal review of vehicle assignments to “ensure those assignments are beneficial to the state.”

A third probe by the State Police, which did not specifically look at Cain, found “no probable cause” to believe that former Angola internal investigator Kenneth Norris violated state law, State Police Maj. Layne Barnum wrote in a letter to Leblanc dated March. 21.

Norris, who is married to Cain’s niece and also retired last year, was believed to have failed to show up for work despite collecting payment, The Advocate previously reported. Norris denied those claims.

Findings from a parallel investigation into Cain by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office have not been released.

LeBlanc, in a prepared statement, thanked the State Police and the inspector general for professionalism in the investigations and the reports.

“Over the next few weeks, the Department will proceed with the recommendations outlined in the memo from DPS&C Undersecretary Bickham as well as consider the recommendations of the Office of Inspector General,” LeBlanc said.

Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.