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La. Sheriff, Others Face Inmate Abuse Charges

LAFAYETTE (CN) - A federal grand jury indicted New Iberia, La. Sheriff Louis Ackal and Lt. Col. Gerald Savoy on charges of conspiring to oversee the beatings of five pre-trial Iberia Parish Jail detainees in the jail's chapel.

The men were allegedly beaten in the chapel because it is the only part of the jail that does not have camera surveillance, the indictment said.

The indictment came on the heels of guilty pleas last month and in closed proceedings last week from eight other jail employees.

More indictments are expected, said Baton Rouge attorney Donna Grodner, who is representing two of the inmates.

Ackal faces one count of conspiracy against rights and two counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law, and Savoy faces one count of civil rights conspiracy and one count of deprivation of rights, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Each man faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count if convicted.

Investigators for the FBI's Lafayette Resident Agency accuse Ackal and Savoy of conspiring with other officers in the beatings of five pre-trial inmates with a baton during an April 29, 2011, shakedown at the Iberia Parish Jail.

The indictment said Sheriff Ackal was called to the jail during a shakedown, and that he instructed former narcotics agent Byron Benjamin Lassalle to "take care of" a detainee who had made a lewd comment on the jail yard.

"Understanding that Ackal wanted him to assault the detainee to retaliate against him for the lewd comment, Lassalle, in the presence of Ackal and Savoy, asked [jail warden Leslie] Hayes where there was a place at the jail without cameras, and Hayes responded, 'the chapel,'" according to the document.

It should be noted that all of the alleged inmate victims are identified by initials in the court documents.

According to these documents, officers took the inmate, C.O., to the chapel and hit him multiple times with a baton. No officer in the chapel stopped the beating, the indictment says.

C.O. eventually blamed the lewd comments on another inmate, and that inmate, S.S., was escorted to the chapel where he was beaten for making the lewd comment, the indictment said.

"Inside the chapel, numerous officers watched as S.S. was assaulted with a baton while S.S. was compliant, kneeling on the floor, and not posing a threat to anyone," the indictment said.

"Upon learning that S.S. was in jail for a sex offense, Lassalle took his baton, held it between his own legs as if it were a penis, and forced it into S.S.'s mouth, causing S.S. to choke," according to the indictment. "No officer in the chapel stopped the unlawful assault on S.S."

S.S. eventually blamed another detainee, A.T., for the lewd comments, and A.T. was brought into the chapel to be assaulted, according to the document.

Later on, the indictment said, Ackal came across an inmate, A.D., who had written a letter that was critical of the jail. The sheriff then told narcotic officer Jason Comeaux to "take care" of A.D., the court documents said.

"Understanding that Ackal wanted him to use force to punish A.D., Comeaux took A.D. to the chapel so that he could be assaulted," according to the document.

Another inmate, H.D. was also taken to the chapel.

"In the chapel, Ackal, Savoy, and others watched as officers beat A.D. with batons while A.D. was compliant, surrounded by officers, and not posing a threat to anyone. No official in the chapel stopped the unjustified abuse of AD. While A.D. was being beaten, another officer struck H.G., who was also in the chapel, while H.G. was compliant and not posing a threat to anyone. During the assaults, Savoy ordered a K-9 handler to make his dog bark, in order to intimidate detainees A.D. and H.G.," the indictment said.

Donna Grodner, an attorney for two of the inmates, told Courthouse News on Thursday that she and her clients expect more indictments, and they expect Sheriff Ackal will "plead out pretty quickly."

Considering the magnitude of what has come to light, Grodner said, Sheriff Ackal "just has nowhere else to turn."

Ryan Turner, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, could not be reached for comment.

The indictment was brought by U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley; Joseph Jarzabek, Assistant U.S. Attorney in Lafayette; and Vanita Gupta of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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