Gang violence, deputies’ indifference commonplace in Tangipahoa jail: lawsuit

This article was originally published by The Times-Picayune on January 11, 2019. See full article online.

By Robert Rhoden – The Times-Picayune

A former Tangipahoa Parish jail inmate has filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Daniel Edwards and others, claiming he was badly beaten in the jail, describing it as an institution where gang dominance, brutal beatings and deputies’ indifference were commonplace.

Joseph Martin, who was held in the jail in Amite from November 2017 to January 2018, alleges his repeated pleas for help were ignored by deputies. Martin was jailed on a drug charge that was later reduced to a misdemeanor, his attorney said.

In addition to Edwards, the suit filed Jan. 4 lists as defendants Warden Stewart Murphy, deputies Oscar Garcia and Cameron Crockett, and three other unnamed deputies.

In a statement Friday (Jan. 11), Edwards called allegations contained in the suit “erroneous, incomplete, or misleading.” Edwards said, “There is no evidence of ‘gangs’ operating within the parish jail.”

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Gary Bizal of New Orleans, said Martin was placed in the jail’s X tier, where there were more inmates than beds, a situation that led to fights among inmates. Martin slept on the floor for a week before getting his own bed, the petition said.

The tier was controlled by a gang of inmates who terrorized Martin and others, frequently forcing inmates to fight each other, according to the suit.

Sometimes, inmates would bang on the windows in an effort to get deputies’ attention and help. According to the suit, a deputy once told an inmate he wouldn’t be moved out of the tier if he “beat on the window like a bitch.”

The lawsuit said gang leaders ordered Martin to use a wheel from a push cart to break an exterior window or chisel through a wall to gain access to the outside, where drugs could be retrieved and brought into the prison. The leaders told Martin he would be beaten and killed if he did not comply.

The gang later ordered Martin to cut himself so he would be taken to an outside hospital, where drugs would be left for him to bring back to the jail, the suit said.

Gang members became increasingly hostile to Martin because he had not followed their orders, and Martin was severely beaten by four of them on Jan. 15, 2018, suffering facial cuts and jaw and facial fractures, according to the lawsuit.

Martin was taken to Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center in Independence and later sent to University Medical Center in New Orleans where he underwent surgery. While in New Orleans, he was told he was being released from the jail on his own recognizance.

The suit said Martin is now blind in his right eye and continues to have medical problems stemming from the beating. The lawsuit lists six other unrelated cases in which inmates were allegedly beaten and/or raped since 2010, including the case of Tommy Smith, who was beaten to death by a group of inmates in January 2017.

Members of Smith’s family filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Edwards and the jail warden in that case. The suit is pending. In his statement, Sheriff Edwards said, “From time to time, prisoners do act out with violence against other prisoners, and when they do, we bring the appropriate criminal charges against them and refer those charges to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Mr. Martin never accused any other prisoner of harming him while he was in the Tangipahoa Parish Jail, nor following his discharge from the hospital. The first claim that he was a beating victim was the lawsuit itself, and those allegations are un-sworn and cannot not serve as a basis for prosecution.”

Edwards noted that Martin himself told the jail’s outside medical provider that he was injured in a fall when he blacked out after “running the stairs” inside the jail for exercise.

The lawsuit says Martin initially told that story to medical personnel at Lallie Kemp and University Medical Center because he thought he would be returned to the jail and feared for his life.

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