Murder suspect highlights issues with contraband in OPP

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 17, 2012 at 10:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 18 at 2:47 PM

Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
Email: mperlstein@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mperlstein

NEW ORLEANS -- Jamaal Tucker, awaiting trial for murder after his earlier murder conviction was thrown out, is a red-band inmate, the highest security designation at Orleans Parish Prison.

But that didn't prevent Tucker from being charged in two recent contraband cases, cases that could affect his upcoming murder trial and are now part of a larger investigation.

"It's a never-ending battle,” said Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman. “We work every day to keep contraband out of the jail. They work every day to get it in."

Last month, Tucker was indicted for distribution of marijuana behind prison walls. The alleged scheme was interrupted when, according to a police report obtained by Eyewitness News, authorities were alerted to a packet of legal documents that were hollowed out to conceal the drugs.

Gusman said it was the first time he's seen drugs hidden in confidential legal papers.

"There's a lot of stuff here that happens that could be considered out of the ordinary,” he said.

The package was intercepted by a legal group that previously assisted in Tucker's defense. The Capital Appeals Project brought to the package to prosecutors, according to the police report.

When jail authorities listened to some of Tucker's taped phone calls, they reported hearing him hatch a plan to use an attorney to smuggle in weed provided by family members.

The director of the Capital Appeals Project, Sarah Ottinger, said her organization has cooperated fully with authorities and her attorney was nothing more than an innocent victim of the scheme.

To Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the Tucker case shows that contraband at OPP - highlighted in previous 4 Investigates stories - continues to be a serious problem.

For another recent example, look no further than Tucker. In March, one month after the marijuana case, deputies said they found Tucker with a shank, a homemade prison knife, as detailed in a police report.

"This is something that you don't see every day,” Goyeneche said. “But we've seen documented cases where cell phones have been snuck in some of the inmates have used that to direct their criminal enterprise while they're behind bars. We've seen hits ordered as a result of that."

But Goyeneche also said Gusman should be applauded for bringing these cases to light.

"When it is being discovered, some sheriff's departments and some law enforcement agencies sweep it under the carpet,” Goyeneche said. “To the credit of the sheriff, what you're seeing is that he's not only documenting it, he's referring it the district attorney's office and people are being charged criminally, as they should."

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro could not talk about the specifics of Tucker's case. But he said the steady flow of contraband cases is alarming.

"We are seeing many cases - many, many more cases - of people who are trying to sneak narcotics into the jail. We're seeing instances of people trying to secret instances of people trying to secrete cell phones into the jail. And in fewer cases, we're even seeing some people try to sneak weapons into the jail,” Cannizzaro said.

Cannizzaro said he is prosecuting the cases aggressively, potentially a bad sign for Tucker.

"A person can be thrown in jail for bringing contraband into the jail for up to five years, and as I said, that can be five years in addition to the sentence the person may already serving,” Cannizzaro said.

Tucker's attorneys did not respond to calls for comment. There have been no court proceedings scheduled in the contraband case, but Tucker's second-degree murder case is set for a status hearing on Aug. 2.

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