Special report: Did Darren Sharper, St. Tammany man with connections get favorable treatment in jail? _lowres

HANSON FAMILY TIES: Josh Hanson was sentenced to 7 years in state prison for molestation of a juvenile and carnal knowledge of a juvenile. He has been held in St. Tammany Parish jail since his sentencing in October. (Advocate graphic)

Josh Hanson was in a rage as he stormed around the outside of his parents’ Abita Springs home in late 2009. The Army private was armed with a rifle, demanding that Holly Burton surrender their newborn daughter to him.

Burton kept her 6-week-old infant in her arms and avoided the windows, fearing her then-fiancée would shoot her, she said Wednesday. He had already choked and slapped her, she said, and he had two weapons. The rifle was equipped with a scope.

“I was his target,” she said.

Burton wasn’t the only one afraid of Hanson that day. So were members of his family, including his parents, both of whom are ranking officers with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Hours into the ordeal, his mother, Sgt. Cheryl Hanson, called the Sheriff’s Office, and deputies arrested Josh Hanson.

Her son threatened family members at the time of his arrest, according to an affidavit from the arresting officer. “The victims feared for their lives due to Hanson retrieving a firearm from his vehicle and making similar threats prior to deputies’ arrival,” the officer wrote.

As Hanson was led away, a deputy told him to calm down, according to a second affidavit supporting the arrest. It says, “Hanson replied, ‘I won’t be calm until all of them are dead.’ ”

Hanson was booked on one felony count of domestic abuse/strangulation and two misdemeanor counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

The four-hour confrontation allegedly began with Hanson throwing Burton on the bed, choking her and then poking her in the face and slapping her. He wanted to take their baby and start a family with a new girlfriend, she said.

But Hanson, who was 21 at the time, was never charged with a crime. Burton, who lives out-of-state with their now 7-year-old daughter, thinks she knows why.

“I think they got him out of it,” she said of his family, citing the clan’s deep connections with St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain.

Hanson’s parents and four other immediate family members work for the Sheriff’s Office, as do several in-laws and more distant relatives. Another relative, Brandy Hanson, is one of the owners of a work-release program that Strain privatized, a deal the sheriff awarded without seeking bids.

“I would like to know why nothing ever happened,” Burton said of the charges, given the serious nature of the incident. “I didn’t know who to call. He knew he could get away with everything.”

Burton is not the only person harmed by Hanson who believes his family helped him get favorable treatment.

Hanson is now in the St. Tammany Parish Jail, serving a seven-year sentence for molestation of a juvenile and carnal knowledge of a juvenile. He also was sentenced to five years, to run concurrently, for failure to register as a sex offender.

The victim of that crime was 16 at the time. She’s angry that Hanson, who forced her into sex during another fit of rage, is not in a state prison. Instead, he’s being held in protective custody in the parish jail, where a family member works, an unusual arrangement that has drawn criticism from the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission.

For a time, Hanson was in a tier with former Saints player and sex offender Darren Sharper, where sources familiar with the jail say the two had access to an Xbox gaming system 24 hours a day. Hanson has since been moved into another tier. Though the tier was built to hold 10 prisoners, he is the sole occupant.

Strain has refused to answer questions about whether Hanson or Sharper has received favorable treatment or about specific jail policies. Instead, he issued a statement saying that the jail has been recognized at the state and federal levels for outstanding operations and practices and is a model in the field of corrections.

“Darren Sharper and Joshua Hanson have been incarcerated in accordance with all federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines, Louisiana Department of Corrections guidelines and internal Sheriff’s Office policies,” Strain said.

Norris Henderson, executive director of Voice of the Ex-Offender, said the fact that Hanson has been provided with his own tier is unusual. “That’s kind of like preferential treatment because you wouldn’t be setting up two or three different wings of protective custody,” he said.

The incident that led to Hanson’s 2009 arrest was part of a larger pattern of inflicting harm on females, including two who were underage. He pleaded guilty in 2010, while stationed at Fort Polk, to two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Army investigators said the case involved sex with a female under 16. He was court-martialed. That conviction led to his recent five-year sentence for failing to register as a sex offender in St. Tammany.

People with histories of “domestic violence and sexual assault, which are two heavily overlapping groups of perpetrators, are the ultimate recidivists,” said Tania Tetlow, a Tulane law professor and former director of the school’s Domestic Violence Clinic. Both crimes are about power, she said, and one way to wield power is to target victims who are much younger.

“For a perpetrator to have connection to law enforcement gives them a lot more power,” Tetlow said. “But the reality is there’s not a lot of holding domestic violence abusers or rapists accountable, period.”

That’s how it appears from Burton’s point of view. Soon after Hanson’s alleged rampage, she moved away from Louisiana with her baby. Even so, he continued to contact her, in some cases asking her to drop the charges against him, in others allegedly threatening to burn her house down.

She reported the threats to police where she now lives, but they told her they couldn’t do much, she said.

For a time after the incident, she also heard from the District Attorney’s Office in St. Tammany Parish. “They kept calling me, asking me what happened. And then one day, they stopped calling,” she said.

Lisa Page, spokeswoman for the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that a case was opened, saying it was referred to the office while Walter Reed, who left office in January 2015, was still the DA.

The case was refused in May 2014, she said, adding, “We haven’t been able to locate a file” since Warren Montgomery succeeded Reed.

Hanson did not bond out after his 2009 arrest, Sheriff’s Office spokesman George Bonnett said. Instead, he was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Army at its request.

The Sheriff’s Office sent the local case file to the DA, he said.

Burton said the Army put Hanson in a psychiatric hospital in Alexandria after the 2009 attack. A supplemental report by the Sheriff’s Office says military police took Hanson to a facility called Crossroads.

Burton said Hanson had been worse after he returned from a tour in Iraq, and there was talk that he suffers from PTSD.

She visited him at the hospital in Alexandria with his parents, she said.

“They were saying that they didn’t understand why he was there: ‘He’s so sweet, he’s so this, he’s so that.’ And I was, “Are you serious?’ ”

During the visit, she said, he boasted about being able to “beat” the psychiatric test he received.

“He knows how to cheat and beat everything,” she said.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.