SLIDELL — A prisoner in a Louisiana jail has reached an out-of-court settlement with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office after charging a since fired deputy officer with viciously attacking him in an unprovoked incident while he was handcuffed.
According to a report by the Times-Picayune, U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon recently dismissed the suit brought by Bryce Hemstad in October 2016, instead announcing that he had “firmly agreed upon a compromise.”
The suit originally named former Deputy Timothy Hooker, Deputy Joseph Hart, former Deputy John Favaloro, Sheriff Randy Smith, former Sheriff Jack Strain and the Sheriff's Office insurer as defendants.
In an unrelated incident, according to the Times-Picayune report, the Sheriff's Office terminated and arrested Hooker on battery charges in December 2015 for allegedly striking another inmate.
In the Hemstad case, Hooker was accused of pepper-spraying the victim and hitting him in the face several times while he was handcuffed to a bench and blinded by the vapors of the spray.
In his petition, Hemstad, now an inmate in St. Charles Parish, also maintained that the attack came after Hart angrily walked him out of his cell and down a hall while complaining that he was "tired of dealing with" him.
“The most important thing in lawsuits like these is that the court system be receptive to listening and diligently protecting the rights of incarcerated individuals,” David J. Utter, an attorney with the Claiborne Firm who has more than 20 years of experience working on civil-rights cases, told the Louisiana Record.
He later added that “so often, people locked up are forgotten about and it’s that 'out of sight, out of mind' conundrum that allows these kinds of abuses to happen. It’s important that lawyers continue to handle these kinds of cases.”
The suit alleged that Hart and Favaloro did not do anything to stop or slow the attack while witnessing the incident. Afterward, Hemstad allegedly remained cuffed to a bench a minimum of 45 minutes, all the while suffering from injuries to his face, teeth and jaw.
At the time of his termination and arrest, the agency announced that Hooker had struck another inmate in the face after the man was "noncompliant with meal-service procedures," forcing him to be removed from the jail dining area last November.
As the man was being escorted to another area of the prison, Hooker allegedly attacked him.
“The rights of the incarcerated have to be protected just as they are for everyone else in our society,” Utter said. “For justice to truly work, it’s really that simple. It’s the only way.”
Over the course of at least 12 years, Hemstad has pleaded guilty to many charges in St. Tammany area, “including being a convicted felon in possession of a gun, making harassing phone calls, aggravated battery, simple burglary, possession of the pain medication oxycodone, and operation of a methamphetamine laboratory,” the Times-Picayune reported.