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Fifth Circuit Upholds Convictions of Louisiana Jail Staff for Failing to Stop Abuse

by Matthew Clarke

In February 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a former Louisiana jail lieutenant’s conviction for depriving a prisoner of his civil rights under color of state law in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. Specifically, the ex-jailer had pleaded guilty to failing to intervene while a prisoner was being beaten by other guards. His sentence of 54 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release also was affirmed.

Bret Broussard was a lieutenant at the Iberia Parish Jail in New Iberia, Louisiana when guard Bryon Lasalle beat S.S., a handcuffed and compliant prisoner, with a baton. Broussard was in charge of the narcotics unit, which used the jail’s chapel to assault certain prisoners because there was no video surveillance in that area. He was present during most of the 10-minute beating, only leaving when Lasalle placed one end of a baton or flashlight between his legs and the other end into S.S.’s mouth and forced him to mimic oral sex. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.46].

Broussard’s unit had previously used the chapel to assault at least five other prisoners as punishment for misconduct. They did so after their superiors told them to “take care” of a prisoner, which they interpreted as an order to administer a beating.

Twelve Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office employees were criminally charged in connection with the beatings. Ten pleaded guilty, including Broussard, who cooperated with the government and testified against Sheriff Louis Ackal, who was acquitted at trial. Broussard appealed his conviction and sentence, claiming that the U.S. Attorney lacked authority to prosecute, that his base offense was inaccurate and that his sentence enhancements had been miscalculated.

The Fifth Circuit held that the base level of 14 for aggravated assault was correct, stating, “A law enforcement officer may be held liable under Section 242 for the substantive offense if the evidence shows he was aware of a constitutional violation and made no effort to prevent the violation.” Further, the case involved “jointly undertaken criminal activity,” with Broussard directly supervising the guards who administered the beating.

The appellate court also affirmed a 15-point sentencing enhancement because Broussard was a law enforcement officer and a deadly weapon had been used on a restrained prisoner who sustained injuries, yielding a 63- to 78-month range. He received a downward departure for cooperating as a witness, and his below-guidelines sentence was procedurally and substantively reasonable. Further, the Court of Appeals found that his challenges to the authority of the U.S. Attorney to prosecute him had been waived by his guilty plea. Therefore, his conviction and sentence were upheld. See: United States v. Broussard, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Case No. 17-30298 (February 5, 2018).

In a related case, United States v. Hatley, 717 Fed.Appx. 457 (5th Cir. 2018), the Fifth Circuit ruled on January 26, 2018 that Sgt. Jeremy Hatley, who had also witnessed the abuse inflicted on S.S. but failed to intervene, should be resentenced. Hatley had pleaded guilty and received 36 months in prison. The Court of Appeals found the district court had misidentified Hatley during a group sentencing hearing, confusing him with another defendant in the case. Following remand, Hatley was resentenced on April 17, 2018 to 30 months in prison plus one year of supervised release. 


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Related legal cases

United States v. Broussard

United States v. Hatley