Judge sentences three law enforcement officer defendants in Iberia Parish civil rights case
LAFAYETTE, La. – U.S. District Judge Donald E. Walter of the Western District of Louisiana yesterday issued prison sentences for three former officials of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office (IPSO), including a former Lieutenant Colonel, for abuses of inmates, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook of the Western District of Louisiana and Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey S. Sallet of the FBI’s New Orleans Division. Former Lt. Col. Gerald Savoy was sentenced to serve 87 months in prison; Wesley Hayes, the former Warden of the Iberia Parish Jail, was sentenced to serve 34 months; and Hayes’ brother Jesse, a former Assistant Warden at the jail, was sentenced to serve 24 months.
The convictions of these three defendants and seven others who were sentenced in February stemmed from several incidents of abuse at the Iberia Parish Jail (IPJ) in 2011. During the course of an expansive investigation, 10 former IPSO officials pleaded guilty to federal criminal civil rights violations. During their guilty plea hearings, the officials admitted to various incidents in which deputies willfully assaulted inmates, without legal justification for doing so. One of those incidents, including the incident to which Savoy and the Hayes brothers pled guilty, involved the abuse of a pretrial detainee in September 2011.
A second incident to which numerous deputies pled guilty occurred at the IPJ on April 29, 2011, when five pretrial detainees were taken into a chapel at the jail and were beaten by sheriff’s deputies.
The seven other defendants, who were sentenced previously for their roles in these civil rights offenses, are former Lt. Bret Broussard of the Narcotics Unit, who was sentenced to 54 months in prison; former narcotics agent Wade Bergeron, who was sentenced to 48 months in prison; former narcotics agent Jason Comeaux, who was sentenced to 40 months in prison; former narcotics agent David Hines, who was sentenced to 40 months in prison; former narcotics agent Byron Benjamin Lassalle, who was sentenced to 54 months in prison; and former K-9 handlers Robert Burns and Jeremy Hatley, who were sentenced to six months in prison and 36 months in prison respectively. An additional deputy, former Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mark Frederick has been indicted and is pending trial at a later date. An indictment is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sheriff Louis Ackal, who was also charged in connection with the cases, was acquitted at a trial in November 2016.
“Former Lt. Col. Savoy and the other defendants sanctioned a culture of inmate abuse and flagrant disregard for the laws they swore an oath to uphold,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wheeler. “The convictions in this case demonstrate that the Justice Department is firmly committed to prosecuting law enforcement misconduct, which erodes public trust and threatens the reputation of the honorable men and women who wear the badge.”
“The FBI is committed to aggressively investigating allegations of excessive force used by law enforcement officers,” said Special Agent in Charge Sallet. “The civil rights of all persons must be protected as they are the bedrock of our society. The vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their duties with professionalism and valor, often at great personal risk. However, those few officers who abuse their authority and tarnish their badge, undermine the faith and trust placed in the criminal justice system by the American people. The FBI will continue to devote all necessary resources to these very important investigations.”
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Lafayette Resident Agency. The case is being prosecuted by Special Legal Counsel Mark Blumberg and Trial Attorney Tona Boyd of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary J. Mudrick of the Western District of Louisiana.