Monica Smith’s shift as a guard at the Orleans Justice Center jail didn't last beyond her lunch break.
A police report shows that upon Smith’s return to work at the jail on Aug. 25, she was booked with domestic abuse battery. A confrontation between Smith and her husband over money flared up in the brief time she was away, officers wrote.
Officers say Smith “punched” her husband then doused him with sheriff's office-issued pepper spray before she returned to work. According to the report, her husband returned fire with another canister of pepper spray, also issued to Smith by the sheriff's office.
“The victim was suffering from skin irritation about the face and body, and a swollen and minor laceration of the upper lip,” the officers wrote.
A deeper investigation into Monica Smith’s work history is even more troubling. Court records reveal that Smith had been arrested about a dozen times before her August run-in with the law, with municipal charges including disturbing the peace, battery, criminal damage to property and multiple missed court appearances.
“When you have multiple arrests and prosecutions for local offenses in your background, that is a red flag,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Some of Smith's charges were dismissed, including the Aug. 25 confrontation with her husband. The district attorney’s office said they were forced to drop that charge because Smith’s husband stopped cooperating in the case.
But Smith was convicted in several other cases, the records show.
In a 2015 case, Smith pleaded guilty to criminal damage after breaking several windows of an apartment with a cinder block. In 2016, she pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace by fighting.
A warrant for missing a court date in an earlier disturbing the peace conviction led to Smith's arrest in March 13. After spending the night in jail, Smith returned to the lockup the next day.
That was the day Smith filed her application to become a deputy, sheriff’s office records show. Despite Smith’s criminal history, she was hired.
“So they spent money training her to be a deputy, only to find out that if they had done and applied their own policies in reviewing her background, she would have never been hired in the first place,” Goyeneche said.
In response to WWL-TV’s findings, the sheriff’s office said Smith was fired in September. However, in an emailed statement, a spokesman didn’t even mention Smith’s August arrest while on duty.
Smith was fired, the spokesman wrote, after a “quality assurance check...revealed that Ms. Smith had in fact failed a background check.”
Attorney Emily Washington of the MacArthur Justice Center represents the city’s inmates as part of a consent decree to reverse dangerous conditions at the jail.She said Smith’s short tenure as a guard at the parish prison is troubling. With the sheriff’s office facing an alarming rate of turnover for the low-paying jail jobs, the pressure to hire new deputies never lets up, she said.
That pressure can lead to less-than-thorough screening of job applicants, or red flags being overlooked, Washington said.
On the questionnaire portion of Smith's application, Smith answered “yes” to a question on whether she had ever been arrested, but she answered “no” when asked if she had prior convictions or warrants.
The sheriff's office declined to explain how that apparently false answer was missed.
However it happened, Washington said.
“It's not just about having bodies in the jail, it matters who those people are and what their qualifications are for that position,” Washington said.
"What kind of people are being hired for this job? This is a very important and very serious job.”
Goyeneche said, “Either the criminal history wasn't reviewed, or it was ignored. Either scenario is unacceptable.”