NEW ORLEANS -- The Louisiana inspector general appears to be widening his probe into a now-closed work-release program in St. Tammany Parish with the head of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, saying he met with the inspector general about it in recent weeks.
At the same time, a new lawsuit was filed against the facility, the St. Tammany Parish sheriff and a politically connected employer in Covington.
The lawsuit stems from the death of inmate Jonathan Dore in April 2011. Dore overdosed on heroin in a non-descript trailer that stands behind a convenience store on Highway 22 near Madisonville.
Dore's mother, Jane LeBlanc, maintains her son was living at the trailer while he was an inmate at the privately-owned work-release program called North Shore Workforce, LLC.
“He was not even in the place he was supposed to be to start with,” LeBlanc said.
Dore was found dead long after typical business hours.
“I really want to know what happened to my son that night, really because at this point, I have two or three versions. Yes, he died of a heroin overdose. But I don't really know what happened and nobody seems to want to tell me,” LeBlanc said.
It's one of several reasons LeBlanc said she filed a lawsuit in state court against North Shore Workforce, the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office and Baker Pile Driving, the company Dore was working for while he was in the work-release program.
The owner of Baker Pile Driving, Robert Baker, is also connected to the company that owns the trailer.
“They knew that these guys were not in the work-release trailer at night. They knew that they were in this trailer and that was a pattern and practice that existed for a long time, and they knew about this,” said Al Robert, Jr., LeBlanc’s attorney.
North Shore Workforce co-owner Marlin Peachey, the St. Tammany sheriff and Baker have all repeatedly denied that anyone ever stayed at the trailer. In our initial report on Dore’s death, they presented us with sign-out sheets with Dore's name on them from the day he died. The sheriff’s office said it's evidence Dore was returning to and from the work-release center every night.
LeBlanc said she brought her son bedding to the trailer. In fact, she took pictures of it at the trailer the day after he was found dead.
Our joint investigation with The New Orleans Advocate found another inmate who admitted to living at the trailer and in Shreveport while working for Baker in the program.
“These defendants had a duty to provide Mr. Dore to provide him the same types of supervision, lodging, medical care and that they failed to meet that duty,” Robert said.
“The onsite medical care would've made a big difference and the 911 tapes show, they even had trouble finding this trailer. It wasn't even addressed in the 911 system,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc also filed for a reconsideration of the federal lawsuit she filed while representing herself less than a year ago.
“The federal court claims it dismissed because there was not evidence put forth at that time showing that North Shore Workforce and Baker Pile Driving had custody over Mr. Dore,” Robert said.
They said they are hoping both courts will consider the information uncovered by our months-long investigation into St. Tammany work release and the recent letter one of the owners of North Shore Workforce sent to the St. Tammany Parish president after he was removed from a recreation district board.
“You have one of the owners coming out and admitting they were negligent in monitoring the employees,” Robert said.
When asked how LeBlanc can blame the facility, the sheriff and the business for Dore’s death when it was his decision to take the drugs, LeBlanc replied, “Because of the protection they should have afforded him.”
Even though North Shore Workforce is now shut down because the sheriff said he could not guarantee the safety of the program, other work-release facilities around the state are still operating.
And while LeBlanc said she thinks it's a great alternative to incarceration, the work-release programs should be run properly.
“Hopefully, I'll save someone else's life. Maybe another parent doesn't have to live this hell I've been living,” LeBlanc said.
Marlin Peachey and North Shore Workforce didn’t return our email seeking comment, and the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office said they don’t comment on the specifics of pending litigation, however they are “confident this will result in the same outcome as the first.”
Both the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office and Robert Baker wouldn't comment on the current lawsuit. But a spokesman for the sheriff did say they're confident this lawsuit will also get dismissed.
Baker called it an attempt to “shift blame.”
Marlin Peachey didn't respond to our request for comment.
The defendants have until May 7 to respond to the motion filed in federal court.