Louisiana Record

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Lawsuit alleges sheriff's deputy abused incarcerated minor

By Taryn Phaneuf | Jan 18, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — A young girl jailed in St. Bernard Parish Jail claims she was repeatedly abused by a sheriff’s deputy, who allegedly made requests and orders that grew more explicit as time passed.

The girl’s mother has filed a lawsuit on her daughter’s behalf against the sheriff, his office, and the deputy accused of the abuse.

Filed Dec. 29 in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, the lawsuit precedes any criminal charges. However, Gary Bizal, attorney for the plaintiff, told The Louisiana Record that St. Bernard Parish District Attorney’s office has said it’s still reviewing the case and deciding what to do.

“Our goal is to recover against the sheriff’s office over what happened with this young girl. We’d like to confirm or make sure that the deputy is punished in the case, criminally, and we’d like to recover an award for her damages,” Bizal said. “It doesn’t look like they’ve done anything except take the guy out of the jail.”

Arrested in June or July 2015, the girl, known only as C.L. in court documents, was sent to St. Bernard Parish Jail, where she allegedly was sexually abused by a deputy in the sheriff’s department.

The civil complaint accuses Deputy Eddie Williams of sexual abuse and civil-rights violations, though criminal charges haven’t been filed. The complaint claims she was subjected to Williams' abuse every day that he was on duty in the area C.L. was held. He allegedly asked to see the girl “in her ‘birthday suit’” and ordered her to take off her clothes, “play with herself,” and sit on the ground with her legs open. Additionally, before she showered, Williams allegedly ordered her to stand in a location that allowed him to see her naked through a video camera.

To force her to comply with his orders, the deputy allegedly threatened to hurt or kill the girl’s mother. He also allegedly bribed her with candy and other food.

The civil complaint further alleges that other deputies observed the behavior. It claims the sheriff should have known about the deputy’s activities and taken action to protect C.L. and other inmates from his misconduct. The plaintiff claims Sheriff James Pohlmann permitted male deputies to oversee female juvenile inmates unsupervised, knowing their duties include strip searches via video. It further alleges that the sheriff failed to supervise, train and discipline guards to stop or prevent sexual abuse of inmates in the jail.

While he moves ahead with the civil case, Bizal has also contacted the FBI to ask it to investigate. In the event that criminal charges are filed, it’s likely the civil case would be put on hold while the criminal trial played out.

The New Orleans attorney said he’d prefer that if it meant someone pursued the charges.

“Because it’s a civil-rights violation, the FBI has concurrent jurisdiction,” Bizal said.

He said he would prefer to have the case handled by the FBI because it would then be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office instead of the district attorney. Bizal believes that would ensure a thorough, independent review of the case.

“But either one, I’d be happy,” he said.

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana