NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The family of a 15-year-old who killed himself while awaiting trial in an adult jail has sued New Orleans and its sheriff and district attorney for negligence and wrongful death.
Jaquin Thomas, 15, was arrested on July 27, 2016, and charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery. His case was brought to Magistrate Court on Aug. 24, and a Rule to Show Cause was set for Oct. 23 — 87 days after his arrest.
On Sept. 13, he was moved from the juvenile facility to Orleans Parish Prison, an adult jail that houses violent offenders. His bail was set at $550,000.
While in the adult prison, he was beaten by other inmates. Prison guards did nothing to stop the beatings, nor did they tell his family of the abuse, his parents say in the complaint.
Jaquin suffered from depression in the prison, but was not given treatment because he was a minor and the prison needed the signature of a guardian to give him drugs. Once, however, he was given a prescription for something, but it was the wrong medication and “had to have his stomach pumped by the prison hospital,” according to the complaint.
He hanged himself with his mattress cover on Oct. 17, and hung for 45 minutes before he was discovered, unresponsive, by prison guard Keriana Alexcee, his parents say, though prison guards in Orleans Parish are required to conduct cell checks every 15 minutes.
Alexcee, 25, was arrested in April and charged with malfeasance in office. A warrant for her arrest says she failed to supervise inmates in the housing unit she oversaw.
When Alexcee was arrested, 11 juveniles were being held in the adult facility, according to the complaint.
A suicide note was found in Jaquin’s cell, but his family never received the note or many of his belongings, they say in the lawsuit. They say they believe that all the prison employees who worked that night have been fired.
The Thomases say their son is not the only one who died due to conditions in the prison.
“Numerous inmates have died in Orleans Parish Prison due to a lack of supervision, both before and after Jaquin’s death,” the complaint states.
Trellis Hughes, whose 25-year-old son Hasahn Shawl, was Jaquin’s alleged victim, said she read news stories in which Jaquin’s relatives described him as a “good kid.” She told the Times-Picayune that she felt otherwise, but she forgave Jaquin because she knew “it’s what her son would have done.”
Hasahn “would have seen past my pain, my hurt. He would have said, ‘That’s a child,’ Hughes said.
Jaquin’s parents say in the lawsuit in New Orleans Parish Court that “video evidence exists which shows defendant Kerianna Alexcee walking by Jaquin’s cell four times, as he hung, without regard.”
Thomas’ aunt, Jeanine McNeal, 55, told the Times-Picayune in April that she felt “very saddened” when she heard that Alexcee had been arrested.
“It’s not just one person that should be held responsible for what happened to Jaquin, McNeal said. “I’m sure whatever is going to go on with this young lady – jail time, probation – that’s another family that’s going to be destroyed. But I know that someone has to be accountable, and again, I don’t think it starts with just one person.”
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has sent more than 200 children to adult court since taking office in 2009, Jaquin’s parents say in the lawsuit.
“Cannizzaro consistently transfers children to adult facilities who have no prior delinquency record,” the complaint adds.
Defendants include are Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman; jail compliance director Gary Maynard; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; the City of New Orleans; the State of Louisiana; and Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Jr.
Louisiana has parishes instead of counties.
The family seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, negligence, deliberate indifference, pain and suffering, violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments, and violations of the Louisiana Children’s Code.
They are represented by Galen Hair with Scott, Vicknair, Hair & Checki.