St. Bernard sheriff pays out $200K in sex abuse claim against deputy, who remains on staff

This article was originally published by The New Orleans Advocate on June 10, 2019. See full article online.

St. Bernard Parish Sheriff James Pohlmann in March settled for $200,000 a lawsuit brought by a teenage girl who claimed she was subjected to persistent sexual abuse by a St. Bernard jail deputy.

The settlement, which has not previously been reported, resolved a claim from the girl that a veteran deputy in the jail’s juvenile division ordered her to masturbate for him and to disrobe in front of a surveillance camera while she was incarcerated from June 2015 to January 2016.

The deputy, Eddie Williams, 69, remains on Pohlmann’s staff but in the fleet maintenance division.

An attorney for the Sheriff’s Office, Mary Hand, confirmed the amount of the settlement, which she said was sealed.

Pohlmann did not respond to a request for comment Monday about his decision to reach the settlement.

The federal lawsuit targeting Pohlmann and Williams was filed in December 2016. The plaintiffs were the girl, who was 15 at the time of her incarceration, and her mother.

According to documents filed into the court record, the allegations against Williams first came to light when another youth complained that Williams had hit him inside the jail.

While a counselor was investigating that complaint, she talked to another boy in the jail who said that Williams had asked the girl to remove her top via the jail’s intercom system.

In her lawsuit, the girl claimed that Williams had told her to take her clothes off and masturbate, and to disrobe in front of a camera so that he could watch.

The girl’s mother said in a deposition that the experience had left her and her daughter living “in a nightmare.”

“She stays up all night. When she finally does go to sleep, sometimes she’ll wake up screaming and crying. She’s full of sweat. It looks like she just got out of the shower. All I can do is hold her and rock her and tell her she’s safe,” the mother said.

Williams was placed on paid administrative leave while the Sheriff’s Office investigated the girl’s claim. He was eventually allowed to return to work in the jail’s adult division. He later moved to the fleet maintenance division.

Yet the girl’s attorney, Gary Bizal, argued in court papers that Williams never should have been in contact with teenage girls. He said that in July 2008, about a year after Williams started working for the Sheriff’s Office, another incarcerated 15-year-old claimed that he made a lewd comment to her.

“I don’t have any candy but I have something else to put in your mouth,” Williams supposedly said.

The Sheriff’s Office said that girl’s complaint was not sustained after she declined through a counselor to be interviewed by an internal investigator.

Bizal also pointed to Williams’ poor performance on a polygraph test designed to evaluate whether he had abused the girl incarcerated in 2015-16.

A Sheriff’s Office major who conducted the polygraph test said Williams “had definite significant emotional responses, which are usually indicative of deception,” when he denied abusing the girl.

The Sheriff’s Office argued in legal filings that the polygraph test would unfairly prejudice a jury against Williams and that the determination of whether Williams was lying should be left up to the jury.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who oversaw the case, ruled in February that the plaintiffs could use both the previous complaint and the polygraph test at a trial, strengthening their case.

Morgan dismissed the lawsuit the next month after the settlement was reached.

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