NEW ORLEANS -- The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is investigating the discovery of more than a dozen contraband cell phones inside Parish Prison, authorities confirmed.
The investigation is focusing on inmates as well as the possibility that sheriff’s office employees or outside civilians helped smuggle the phones into the complex, according to the district attorney’s office.
"The $64,000 question that law enforcement needs to answer right now, is how did these phones get introduced into the jail system?" asked Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Contraband – ranging from drugs to weapons to cell phones – has been a persistent problem at OPP. A now-infamous video that surfaced last year shows inmates with drugs, booze and a loaded gun inside a parish prison jail cell.
Cell phones are one of the most popular forms of jailhouse contraband, potentially allowing dangerous inmates to intimidate witnesses or carry out other crimes from behind bars -- even order “hits” or executions.
Dozens of OPP inmates and deputies have been arrested and convicted of possessing contraband in recent years, and the security concerns are a major issue being addressed by the sweeping consent decree to improve unconstitutional conditions at the jail.
"It's obviously a concern, but we'd be naive to think that you can ever fully prevent contraband from entering any jail," Goyeneche said. “What is important for law enforcement is to find out how they got contraband in and take steps to prevent it."
Sheriff Marlin Gusman previously said that a new jail set to open later this year will provide greater security against the infiltration of contraband.
Goyeneche said that during a tour of the new lockup under construction, Gusman touted enhanced security measures, including some for deputies. Those measures include expanded use of metal detectors and a changing area to prevent deputies from bringing street clothes into the facility.
In a written statement, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro commended the sheriff's office for alerting prosecutors to the cell phone case while it was in its early stages.
“The investigation is seeking to determine not only the inmates who possessed the contraband but also the manner in which it was introduced to the facility and any parties responsible for its introduction,” according to the statement. “Sheriff Gusman should be commended for immediately informing the DA’s office regarding this issue and diligently following through on the investigation of the same.”
A spokesman for the sheriff's office acknowledged the probe, but declined comment until it is complete.