by David M. Reutter
A bizarre incident that resulted in the deaths of two pretrial detainees at the Richwood Correctional Center (RCC) in Louisiana reflects how understaffing and inadequate training at privately-operated jails can have life-changing consequences.
Following a traffic stop, Vernon Ramone White, Sr., 28, was arrested on charges of having no license, no insurance and an outstanding bench warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket. Two days after his October 10, 2015 arrest, White was involved in a fight with another prisoner. Guards placed him in a lockdown cell – “an isolation cell for problematic inmates” – with Erie Moore, who was in isolation due to his “erratic and violent” behavior.
Despite the fact that Lt. Hardwell and Capt. Douglas learned on the morning of October 13, 2015 that White and Moore were involved in an altercation, they were not separated. At 5 p.m., Moore was observed on video gesticulating wildly, pointing and pacing. A few minutes later he was seen creating a mask from a Styrofoam tray and holding it to his face.
At 5:13, White banged on the cell door but guards did not respond. A minute later Moore grabbed White, who unsuccessfully tried to break free. At 5:22, the video showed Moore pushing White to the floor, then kicking and stomping something off frame, which turned out to be White’s body.
Food trays were brought to the cell at 5:39, and Moore was seen eating from both of them. Guards then saw Moore defecating on the cell floor; they entered the cell shortly after 6 p.m. One guard knocked Moore senseless with a blow to the head while others dragged White’s body out of the cell. He was declared dead after being taken to a hospital.
The guards then regrouped and entered the cell, removing Moore and slamming him to the floor. Punches were thrown and pepper spray was dispersed. When deputies from the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s office arrived to take Moore into custody, they transported him to a hospital where he later died.
An autopsy found that Moore tested positive for PCP. A guard overseeing the video monitors said that with over 16 monitors she was too busy to see what was happening in each cell.
“There is no way in the jail not to watch your inmates,” countered Sonita Singh, who evaluates the Louisiana Department of Corrections as part of her research for Tulane and Louisiana State universities. “When a prison is well-run, there is no chance of not watching the surveillance” video.
The families of White and Moore have since filed suit against LaSalle Corrections, the for-profit company that operates RCC. Understaffing and inadequate training are common problems at private jails and prisons, as PLN has consistently reported.
“I’m being retained far more by attorneys in private facilities – for violence in private facilities – than I am in government-run facilities,” said Kenny Sanders, director of the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s training academy. “Untrained staff lead to incidents where people’s civil rights are infringed upon. In order to cut costs, they’re having to hire as cheap a labor force as they can get ... and cut costs on training.”
As indicated by the events at RCC, that business model can have fatal results. The wrongful death lawsuits filed by the White and Moore families remain pending. See: White v. LaSalle Corrections and Moore v. LaSalle Corrections, U.S.D.C. (W.D. La.), Case Nos. 3:16-cv-01405-RGH-KLH and 3:16-cv-01007-RGJ-KLH.
Sources: Courthouse News Service, www.ktbs.com, www.knoe.com
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