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)

In a rare move, a state judge on Wednesday quashed the charge against a New Orleans jail guard accused of leaving her post on the night a 15-year-old boy committed suicide in the jail.

Criminal District Court Judge Camille Buras dismissed the sole charge of malfeasance in office against Keriana Alexcee, 27, who was assigned to the youth tier of the jail when Jaquin Thomas used a mattress cover to hang himself in October 2016.

Buras did not give a reason for her decision, which came before a trial date for Alexcee had been set. A prosecutor promised to appeal, but Alexcee’s defense attorney hailed the ruling.

“The judge’s ruling today recognized what we and many other people in the community have been saying from the beginning,” Sarah Chervinsky said. “This prosecution has been an attempt to put individual blame on a young, inexperienced, black, female, recruit, entry-level employee when the responsibility for this failure really lies in some pervasive, systemic failures of the Sheriff’s Office.”

The judge’s decision came a little over a month after an internal investigator for the Sheriff’s Office revealed previously unknown details about the case.

Alexcee had never been sworn in as a deputy, Lt. Joseph Catalanotto said at a hearing. He also said she was never given the specialized training that guards assigned to the youth tier were supposed to receive.

Nevertheless, Catalanotto sought and obtained a warrant for Alexcee’s arrest on the malfeasance charge. He said video surveillance showed that she spent the bulk of a 90-minute period after the hanging chatting with a deputy in a separate pod of the jail.

Although a federal reform agreement governing operation of the jail mandates 15-minute sweeps of the youth tier, Catalanotto said that Alexcee failed to perform them even at 30-minute intervals, as is standard in the rest of the jail.

Thomas’ death caused widespread alarm about the state of the New Orleans lockup, which has been under a court order to improve its operations since 2013. Nevertheless, suicides and disturbances have remained persistent problems at the jail. Six inmates died inside the jail in 2017, at a rate four times the national average.

Catalanotto’s testimony last month made it clear that the jail was short on staff when Thomas, who was being held on a murder count, committed suicide. The staffing shortages have continued to the present.

“It’s on the leadership of the Sheriff’s Office to make sure that the people they’re entrusting with the lives of juveniles in an adult jail are properly trained to do that job, and she wasn’t properly trained,” Chervinsky said.

Alexcee and her mother were present in court as the judge issued her ruling.

Buras set a June 22 date to receive an appeal from the District Attorney’s Office. That challenge will be heard by the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, which could reinstate the malfeasance charge.


Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.