Johnette Staes portrait

Johnette Staes

The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office fired its controversial human resources director on Wednesday, shortly after a new administrator took over operations at the city’s troubled jail.

Johnette Staes' tenure at the Sheriff's Office ended almost immediately after the man who hired her in early 2017, Gary Maynard, stepped down as the official tasked with bringing the jail into compliance with a federal reform mandate.

Maynard’s replacement, acting jail administrator Darnley Hodge Sr., said that human resources manager Jasminne Navarre also had her last day at the Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday.

Hodge declined to say whether Navarre's departure was voluntary, but she had been hired by Staes. They had previously worked together at the New Orleans Fair Grounds.

Deputies escorted both women out of the Sheriff's Office headquarters in Mid-City on Wednesday evening, a law enforcement source said. 

A Sheriff’s Office spokesman did not respond to a question about why Staes was fired.

The Sheriff’s Office said it will soon name an interim human resources director and begin searching for a permanent one.

Maynard hired Staes at an annual salary of $110,000 to stem turnover in staff at the jail and speed up the hiring process for new employees. Yet she had red flags in her own background, as The New Orleans Advocate reported earlier this month.

She landed her job despite having bounced checks on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2011, including at a pre-school, a clothing store and a car dealership. None of the cases resulted in a conviction, and it appeared she eventually paid the bills and District Attorney’s Office fees in all or most of them.

But the pattern eventually caught the attention of the state Gaming Control Board, the agency that issues permits allowing people to work at the Fair Grounds, where she spent nearly three years as HR director before joining the Sheriff’s Office.

Weeks before she was hired by the Sheriff’s Office, the gaming board yanked Staes' permit to work at the track, largely because she had failed to disclose her bounced-check issues when applying for her permit.

During proceedings with the gaming board, Staes received a character reference from Navarre, who later left the Fair Grounds for a Sheriff’s Office job with a $75,000 salary.

Staes also drew attention after at least two jail employees were fired within weeks of their hire date in May.

One of those deputies, Tyler Materre, was arrested in September on allegations that he tried to smuggle tobacco and marijuana into the jail to a murder suspect charged with participating in a string of 2015 restaurant holdups in Uptown New Orleans.

The second, Monica Smith, landed a job even though she faced municipal charges of criminal damage to property, disturbing the peace and battery.

The Metropolitan Crime Commission in June sent a letter warning the Sheriff’s Office about Staes’ history of bad checks. The Sheriff’s Office said it extended her probationary period as a result but kept her employed.

Her departure could be a sign that Hodge, a longtime corrections professional in Virginia who most recently served as a federal monitor for the Sheriff’s Office reform process, intends to take an aggressive approach to cleaning house at the jail.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who won re-election last year, has been sidelined from running the facility under a 2016 order from U.S. District Judge Lance Africk. That order came as a result of a reform agreement with the federal government known as a consent decree.

When Maynard handed in his resignation last month, Africk reiterated that change was coming too slowly at the city's lockup, which has been plagued by suicides, violent attacks and drug smuggling. 

"While there has been some improvement in compliance over the course of Director Maynard’s tenure, the court is nonetheless dissatisfied with the pace of reform and lack of compliance relating to numerous mandates of the consent decree," Africk said in his order.

The jail’s human resources department came in for particular scrutiny from Hodge and his fellow monitors. They said in a January report that the jail’s hiring requirements and background investigation practices needed to be examined and revised to reverse sky-high attrition rates.

Earlier this month, the Sheriff's Office hired a consulting firm to review whether its HR department was following best practices regarding background checks and other functions. The agency's contract with the Segal Waters firm was worth $49,000, according to public records.

Emily Washington, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans who represents jail inmates, said she hopes Staes will be replaced quickly.

“Staffing levels in the jail remain in a state of crisis. People in OPSO custody continue to be without proper supervision and to suffer serious harm as a result. We hope that OPSO moves swiftly to fill the HR director position so that efforts to recruit and retain qualified staff can begin,” she said.

Attempts to contact Staes on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Navarre did not immediately return a message. 

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge. | (504) 636-7432

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