Justice Department Finds Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Violates the Constitution By Incarcerating People Beyond Their Release Dates
WASHINGTON – Two Louisiana women, former jail deputies, were sentenced today to over a year in prison and six months in prison respectively for their roles in covering up a civil rights violation arising out of an inmate’s death at the St. Bernard Parish Prison (SBPP).
On April 1, 2014, 19-year-old Nimali Henry died in custody after she failed to receive medical treatment for her rare blood disorder and other medical conditions during the ten days she was incarcerated there.
Former SBPP Deputy Lisa Vaccarella of New Orleans was sentenced to 21 months in prison with three years of supervised release for failing to take any affirmative steps to alert federal authorities that she knew that other officers had willfully violated Ms. Henry’s civil rights by depriving her of necessary medical treatment. Vaccarella was also sentenced for lying to FBI agents about her own observations of Ms. Henry. Specifically, Vaccarella admitted that she falsely told FBI agents that she saw Henry get up on her command, stand without help, and walk without any difficulty when, in fact, Vaccarella watched Henry fall to the floor and then, without offering Henry any assistance, closed the cell door, leaving Henry lying on the floor.
Former SBPP Deputy Debra Becnel of New Orleans was sentenced to six months in prison with three months to be served in custody followed by three months of home detention and three years of supervised release for lying to FBI agents during the federal investigation. In pleading guilty, Becnel admitted that she falsely told FBI agents that neither Henry nor the inmates talked to her about Henry’s medical needs, when, in fact, Henry and other inmates had told Becnel and other correctional officers that Henry was ill, needed medical treatment and might die if she did not get her medical treatment.
“When officers obstruct justice and lie during investigations, it threatens our ability to prosecute civil rights cases and erodes the public’s confidence in law enforcement itself," said Pamela S. Karlan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "To ensure that justice prevails, the Department will continue to prosecute officers who lie to investigators and cover up crimes."
“The protection of all of our citizen’s civil rights is an essential part of our Constitution,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “Violation of these entitlements, especially in this case by the correctional officers sworn to protect the rights of inmates, erodes public confidence in our correctional system. The public must be able to trust that correctional officers are fulfilling their duties honestly and are truthful during the course of federal investigations or face the consequences of their actions. Our office, along with the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state and local law enforcement agencies will continue to investigate and prosecute any violations of our citizen’s civil rights.”
"Along with our partners, the FBI will aggressively investigate allegations wherein correctional officers abuse their position of power and authority over prisoners to deny them their constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment," said Special Agent in Charge Bryan Vorndran for the FBI New Orleans Field Office. "Nimali Henry suffered incredible unusual punishment at the hands of Deputies Lisa Vaccarella and Debra Becnel. The two deputies willfully deprived Henry of the medical attention she desperately needed and lied to federal authorities to conceal their failure to act in a compassionate and humane manner, let alone honor the oath they swore to uphold. The law suffers the most when those in a position of trust abuse their power. The FBI New Orleans Field Office appreciates its partnerships with the trial attorneys from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Louisiana.”
Former SBPP Captain Andre Dominick and former SBPP Corporal Timothy Williams are also due to be sentenced today for the role each played in Henry’s death. Dominick and Williams each have pleaded guilty to violating Henry’s civil rights under color of law by being deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs.
This case was investigated by the FBI and was prosecuted jointly by Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant United States Attorneys Chandra Menon and Tracey N. Knight of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.