ST. TAMMANY, La. -- Critics say St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain contracted with the connected to run two work release centers on the Northshore, and now they question incidents with one particular employer who has close ties to the centers.
Near the end of their sentences, inmates -- some of them convicted of violent crimes, most convicted of drug offenses -- are supposed to work during the day and stay locked up at work release centers at night.
But a Slidell mother wonders how her son died of a heroin overdose while at a work site trailer long after the work day typically ends.
“I saw the condition of that trailer. I said, oh my God. It’s like a drug house.”
That was Jane LeBlanc’s reaction to seeing the site where her son had taken a lethal overdose of heroin on April 18, 2011.
It’s a non-descript trailer, the type used for portable offices or classrooms, and it’s tucked behind a convenience store on the outskirts of Madisonville. It’s where 26-year-old Jonathan Dore died two and a half years ago.
“A human being died there and it was business as usual the next day. No investigation, no nothing,” LeBlanc said.
Dore was a Louisiana Department of Corrections inmate serving time for flight from an officer and theft who, after violating his probation, was assigned to the St. Tammany Parish work release program. He was supposed to be living at Northshore Workforce on Champagne Street, across from the St. Tammany Parish Jail, when he wasn’t working.
Northshore Workforce LLC is one of two private companies that St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain contracted with to run his work release programs. The other is St. Tammany Workforce LLC in Slidell.
Dore and an unknown number of inmates from the program have continually been assigned to work for a company called Baker Pile Driving and Site Work, LLC, over the years. Dore was a certified welder and according to LeBlanc, Baker used him to help reconstruct the former Sewell Cadillac building in the New Orleans Central Business District.
Baker Pile Driving lists three locations on their website, one of them as the company’s marine dock at 175 Hwy. 22 East in Madisonville. The website lists the company’s lay yard as another area just up the highway.
“It was no trailer offsite. This was a tool shed owned and operated by the employer,” Strain said.
While the sheriff oversees the program in a broad sense, day-to-day operations are controlled by Northshore Workforce.
Strain’s campaign treasurer and former jail warden, Marlin Peachey, is one of the owners. He said his father, St. Tammany business man Jimmy Laurent, and several others are also investors in the company.
Peachey maintains he has no responsibility for Dore’s decision to shoot up.
“It was a work site. It was a working work site. And he decided to go in a work shack, or a building that they have tools and stuff like that and a bathroom for guys to come in and use the restroom, and he decided to go inject himself,” Peachey said.
The night of Dore’s death, another inmate called 911. The call came in at 8:22 p.m., long after work is usually done for the day.
“The week my son died, he was there since the previous Thursday. He was there Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday until he died,” LeBlanc said.
Both the sheriff and the workforce center deny any inmates, including Dore, ever spent the night in the trailer.
A spokesman for the sheriff sent us a sign-out sheet from Northshore Workforce from the day Dore died. It appears to show that either Dore or someone else signed him out of the center at 4:40 a.m.
Peachey told us in an email Tuesday that all of the offenders in 2011 signed themselves out.
“All of the offenders at that time were required to print their name, DOC number, bed number and the company that they worked for. Our security personnel notated the time out/in. At present all offenders in/out times are tracked by the offender ID computer scanning system,” Peachey said in an email.
Sign-out sheets for the other days in question weren't provided to us in time for this report.
“Why is there bedding on the floor if you’re not staying there?” LeBlanc asked after looking at pictures she took of the trailer the day after Jonathan was found dead.
He was reportedly found next to a mattress in the Baker trailer with sheets and a comforter on it.
Robert Baker of Baker Pile Driving told us the trailer is at a "staging area" where the workers were dropped off and picked up and that the convenience store and the trailer aren't owned by Baker Pile Driving.
Parish and state records show it's owned by one of Baker's other affiliated companies, Gas Properties, LLC. Baker also maintains none of the workers ever stayed the trailer.
We asked Peachey if he felt the oversight of Dore was adequate at Baker. He replied, “Well, he was at his employer's workplace. They have to provide supervision when we turn them over to their employer. They sign a contract that they have to provide supervision, proper supervision. That was attained that they had proper oversight.”
LeBlanc said she met some of the other work release offenders who were working for Baker when they came to pick up food and even her son's truck.
In a recent lawsuit, she claimed they were all left at the trailer with no food or supplies for days and the freedom to go wherever they wanted during the day.
“Two weeks before he died, [Jonathan] was a DOC inmate in New Orleans, at the Lakefront, all over the place,” she said.
LeBlanc also had pictures of Dore taken in those places two weeks prior.
The trailer where Dore died is still at the site. There's also a more camping-type trailer there now.
A year after Dore died, there were other incidents with other inmates who were working for Baker, including one who went on a bender on the South shore in Jefferson Parish.
Jamerson Hakenjos was a work release inmate employed by Baker Pile Driving in 2012. Documents obtained by WWL-TV show a Baker crane operator took Hakenjos to the south shore after allegedly telling a Northshore Workforce transport that he was staying at the Baker site to work on the operator’s truck.
Hakenjos eventually told detectives the operator dropped him off near Ochsner Hospital and that he walked to Pigeon Town in New Orleans, drank vodka and smoked crack, then eventually snatched a woman's purse at Ochsner.
He said he and the operator returned to the Baker trailer at around 2:30 a.m. Hakenjos also told detectives that another work release inmate woke him up in the Baker trailer the next morning telling him to call in to the work release program.
After Jefferson Parish deputies released Hakenjos’ picture as a purse snatching suspect, Northshore Workforce had him booked with simple escape, two days after he first went to the South shore.
Strain didn’t comment directly on the Hakenjos case, but did say this about Dore’s death.
“With 300 people in a work release program overall I wish that one of them wouldn't do something stupid. But the reality is that I know that they will,” Strain said.
Baker Pile Driving has strong political connections in St. Tammany. We saw former Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price going to work at Baker's headquarters on Ronald Reagan Highway.
The office is also listed as the business headquarters of Northshore Workforce, LLC.
“I know my son could've died on the street on many occasions. I do realize that,” LeBlanc said, “But I never thought that my son would have passed away while he was in the care of the St. Tammany law enforcement.”
Strain, Peachey and Baker all respond to the allegations by citing a federal judge's dismissal of her lawsuit.
The judge found her attorneys didn't prove any of LeBlanc's federally-protected civil rights were violated, but said she could still try to sue in state court.
“The federal courts said the Sheriff's Office could not in any stretch of the imagination be held responsible. But equally so, to drive this point home, the federal courts also said the provider bears no responsibility,” Strain said.
Leblanc disagrees and said she is hiring a new lawyer to ask for a re-consideration on the federal level.
“This is not about financial gains for myself. This is about another mother not having to answer the door at 11:30 at night and hear that they're so sorry her son is deceased,” she said through tears.
We asked if the La. Department of Corrections ever investigated Dore’s death or the incident involving Hakenjos.
Communications Director Pam Laborde said they will now be looking into it further and issued this statement: “The Department was advised of Jonathan Dore’s death as required by our guidelines and DOC obtained a copy of the incident report filed by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. DOC takes complaints and reports of TWP incidents seriously and works with appropriate investigatory agencies to determine whether further inquiry is necessary."