Keriana Alexcee

Keriana Alexcee is accused of malfeasance in office in connection with the October suicide of Jaquin Thomas, 15, inside the Orleans Justice Center. (OPSO)

A young guard at the New Orleans jail went into despair on the night a 15-year-old boy in her unit hanged himself in 2016, a Sheriff’s Office investigator said Tuesday.

“I saw a young deputy who was very distraught,” said Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office Lt. Joseph Catalanotto. “I had no reason to believe that she had done anything wrong.”

Yet Catalanotto said he eventually concluded that Keriana Alexcee’s negligence played a part in the suicide of Jaquin Thomas, who was a suspect in a murder case.

Catalanotto’s testimony at a hearing in Criminal District Court revealed a raft of new details on the investigation into Thomas’ death. It also served as fodder for Alexcee’s defense attorney, who has filed a motion to quash a felony malfeasance charge against her.

Lawyer Sarah Chervinsky told Judge Camille Buras that Alexcee, who was 25 at the time, had never been trained on the mandate in a federal consent decree that deputies should check on inmates in the youth tier every 15 minutes.

There was thus no basis to claim that Alexcee had intentionally failed to perform an official duty, as the malfeasance law requires, Chervinsky said.

Buras said she would rule on the motion to quash the charge against Alexcee on May 23.

Throughout the hearing, the judge repeatedly questioned how Alexcee was supposed to know about her duty to check frequently on the youthful inmates.

In one of the most surprising revelations, Catalanotto said that despite the fact that the Sheriff’s Office apparently expected Alexcee to keep watch on one of its most sensitive units, she had not even been sworn in as a deputy because of budget constraints.

“She was a recruit,” he said. “She had the same 90-hour training as someone who was a deputy, but because of finances, that promotion never was done.”

Catalanotto also said that while Thomas had requested psychiatric medication, none was provided to him. Alexcee had not been warned that Thomas had mental health problems, he said.

There was also no evidence that Alexcee had received an eight-hour course required for deputies assigned to sensitive units like the youth tier, Catalanotto said.

Nevertheless, Catalanotto and Assistant District Attorney David Pipes maintained that at the very least Alexcee should have checked on inmates every 30 minutes, as is standard in the rest of the jail.

“She didn’t do that, even,” Pipes said. “If she did one of the checks every 30 minutes, I’ll dismiss the case.”

Pipes said the state believes that Alexcee was personally covered by the jail’s 2013 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. That document specifically mandates 15-minute checks in the youth tier, he said.

“The consent decree by its very language applies to the employees of the Sheriff’s Office,” Pipes said.

Yet Chervinsky argued that it was absurd to assume that one of the jail’s hundreds of deputies would be familiar with the lengthy consent decree. “Miss Alexcee is not a party to the consent decree," she said. "Her signature is not on it.”

Drawing upon video surveillance, Catalanotto provided a minute-by-minute breakdown of where Alexcee was inside the jail on Oct. 17, 2016. She conducted her first sweep of the youth tier at 6:53 p.m. and went to a control booth.

Thomas began stringing up a homemade noose at about 7:35 p.m. At 7:42 p.m., another deputy came into the control booth and informed Alexcee that it was now Alexcee’s duty to patrol the youth tier, Catalanotto said.

Thomas stopped moving inside his cell at 7:48 p.m. Alexcee walked through the youth tier five minutes later but failed to notice that he was hanging from the noose, he said.

For the next hour and a half, she spent more time visiting a deputy in another jail pod than in her own unit, Catalanotto said. It was only at 9:19 p.m. that she saw Thomas hanging from the noose in his cell. At that point she called for backup and made frantic attempts to save Thomas’ life, he said.

Yet while Catalanotto insisted that Alexcee had abandoned her post, Chervinsky questioned whether walking the youth tier was even her assignment that night.

Chervinsky said the timeline suggested that Thomas was already dead or dying by the time the other deputy relieved Alexcee in the control booth. She said the Sheriff’s Office could not prove that Alexcee was formally assigned to walk the youth tier rather than observe it from afar in the control booth.

“The evidence at hand makes a pretty good case for liability or responsibility to be placed up the chain in the Sheriff’s Office,” Chervinsky said.


Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.