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Deputies face federal charges in jail death

Four St. Bernard sheriff's deputies were arraigned in federal court Monday on civil rights charges stemming from the death of a young mother inside the parish jail.

CHALMETTE, La. -- Four St. Bernard sheriff's deputies were arraigned in federal court Monday on civil rights charges stemming from the death of a young mother inside the parish jail.

Capt. Andre Dominick, Corporal Timothy Williams and deputies Debra Becnel and Lisa Vacarella were released on individual $50,000 signature bonds, essentially free bonds that only require payment if a defendant skips court.

The four are charged in the April 2014 jailhouse death of 19-year-old Nimali Henry, who died after 10 days in custody of a rare blood disorder for which she was supposed to be taking medication.

Henry's family said they repeatedly tried to notify jail officials about Henry's medical condition and her need for treatment, but they were ignored.

The federal indictment alleges that the deputies ignored obvious signs of Henry's distress while she was locked up. Later, after Henry's death, the deputies lied to the FBI to cover up their actions, according the indictment.

Dominick is accused of lying about whether Henry told him about her frail condition. Williams is accused of lying about checking on Henry in her isolation cell. Becnel is accused of lying about whether she was told by Henry and other inmates that Henry was struggling.

Finally, Vacarella is accused of lying about seeing Henry "stand up without any assistance and walk without any difficulty." According to the indictment, "Vacarella watched Henry fall to the dorm room floor on March 30, 2014, and then Vacarella closed the dorm door and left Nimali Henry lying on the floor."

Henry died after being found unresponsive two days later.

A police report shows that Henry, 19, was locked up after being booked with disturbing the peace, simply battery and unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling after she went to a woman's house to visit her 4-month old child. The father of the child had taken the infant to the woman's house and, according to a police report, the two women scuffled.

St. Bernard Judge Jeanne Juneau set bail at $25,000, an amount that Henry's family could not afford. Her family and other supporters say the bail was unreasonable.

"They gave this woman a $25,000 bond for three simple charges that there never should have been a $25,000 bond for," said former FBI analyst Barry Barnadas, who launched his own private investigation into the case upon hearing the circumstances. "She could have actually been given the equivalent of a traffic ticket, which is a summons to go to court. But subsequently she was arrested."

The six-page indictment against the deputies states that they "willfully failed to provide Henry with necessary medical care, thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Nimali Henry."

The deputies, who are on administrative leave, face up to five years in prison if convicted of lying to the FBI, and a maximum of life if convicted on the civil rights charge.

Eyewitness News legal analyst Chick Foret said that while each defendant faces identical charges, they must defend themselves individually.

"It may well be that one or more of the defendants will begin speaking with the government," Foret said. "We don't know that any of them are even thinking about cooperating now. But it may be since each individual has to worry about himself or herself, they may then think about cooperating with the government."

Trial is scheduled for Feb. 22 before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.