NEW ORLEANS -- A second suspect has been arrested in the contraband case that two weeks ago led to the suspension of an Orleans Parish sheriff's deputy, and court records indicate heroin was among the illegal goods the pair allegedly tried to smuggle into the prison.
Based on information that Deputy Bryson Baptiste gave to investigators, Erinisha Thibodeaux of Gretna was booked Aug. 21 with four counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
After Thibodeaux appeared in court for arraignment, the charges were changed to four counts of introduction of contraband into a prison, court records show. But in a preliminary police report, investigators accuse Thibodeaux, 23, of paying Baptiste to bring contraband into the prison four different times, paying him $100 per delivery.
Baptiste’s attorney, Ike Spears, said that in his client’s initial statement to investigators, he only admitted bringing cigarettes into the lockup.
"As far as my client knows, he was bringing cigarettes,” Spears said “How they were laced or doctored or packaged, he was not aware."
Upon questioning by police, Thibodeaux denied any wrongdoing, stating that “she only brought Deputy Baptiste lunch to the jail on several occasions.”
Despite Thibodeaux’s claims of innocence, the detectives booked her with the heroin charges.
The two arrests come amid contentious efforts to reform the sprawling prison complex, which has long been troubled by violence, inadequate staffing and the persistent presence of contraband ranging from drugs to weapons to cell phones. A federal consent decree has been approved to clean up some of the problems, but the court action remains bogged down in disputes over financing.
Wholesale reforms at the prison also await the completion of a new modern jail, which is still months away from completion.
Prison activist Norris Henderson said the two recent contraband cases illustrate the need to push forward with more guards and tighter security while the consent decree awaits funding.
"They're playing cops and robbers,” Henderson said. “Catch me if you can. If you catch me, I'll pay the price."
Henderson said the low wages paid to guards contributes to the problem by creating temptation to break the law as a way to make more money. According to police reports in more than a dozen earlier contraband cases, the going rate to smuggle illegal goods into the prison ranges from $100 to $400 per shipment. Several deputies have been convicted on contraband charges over the past five years.
"What a lot of people aren't getting is that the conditions inside the jail create the atmosphere for (contraband),” Henderson said. “But the other thing is that when people aren't being paid, there's temptation. These deputies are barely making more than minimum wage.”
The lead plaintiff in the consent decree lawsuit, the Southern Poverty Law Center, urged a faster timetable for reforms in a recent filing in the case.
In the eight-page document, the plaintiffs state that inmates “cannot remain in the current buildings any longer than absolutely necessary. The class members are at risk in the current facilities and the new jail must become operational as soon as possible.”
“Current conditions (at the prison) are deplorable and unconstitutional,” according to the plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, Baptiste and Thibodeaux have been released on bond as they await trial. The sheriff’s office would not elaborate on the case, stating that the investigation remains “active and ongoing.”