By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has declined to pursue criminal charges against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s staff after investigating the death of a woman who collapsed after being held in restraints at Gusman’s jail in January 2009.
Technically, Cayne Miceli, 43, did not die in Gusman’s custody because Gusman requested that she be released by Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens when she was on life support at University Hospital.
Miceli’s survivors filed a federal civil lawsuit against Gusman in January, but their attorney, Mary Howell, held off on the case in September after Cannizzaro told her he would start a criminal investigation, she said.
Cannizzaro declined comment at the time, citing a policy about not discussing investigations.
Cannizzaro’s office now confirms that a criminal investigation took place into the death of Miceli, who had a history of asthma, panic attacks and depression. She died after being put in five-point restraints for more than four hours, according to the lawsuit.
“The District Attorney’s office did perform an investigation, and determined that none of the parties involved acted in a criminally negligent fashion,” Assistant District Attorney Chris Bowman said. “Nor did they do anything to intentionally cause the death of Cayne Miceli.”
Miceli’s family issued a statement this morning expressing disappointment at the news, and vowing to pursue other avenues to obtain accountability related to the death.
“We want these people brought to justice,” Miceli’s father, Mike Miceli said.
Howell disagrees with Cannizzaro’s decision not to proceed with criminal charges.
“We have a disagreement about whether there was a prosecutable criminal violation here,” Howell said.
Howell alleged in the lawsuit filed Jan. 4, that Miceli died because the restraints compromised her ability to breathe.
“It was a terrible death, one of the worst that I’ve seen, and unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of them,” Howell said.
Howell has asked successive district attorneys to investigate in-custody deaths as a matter of policy, particularly those at the jail, regardless of whether the coroner’s office has classified them as a homicide, instead of allowing law enforcement to conduct their own investigations. Cannizzaro agreed to take on this investigation only “because of the family’s insistence,” Howell said.
New Orleans police took Miceli into custody after she allegedly bit a Tulane University Police Department officer at the Tulane Medical Center late on Jan. 4, 2009. Miceli had become agitated about a plan to discharge her after seven hours of treatment for an asthma attack.
Miceli was placed in five-point restraints at the jail after attempting to hang herself using her jail-issued jumpsuit, according to the lawsuit. Miceli “suddenly went limp” after she was held down by three sheriff’s deputies, attempting to place her back in restraints after she had struggled out of them, according to the lawsuit.
Paramedics eventually detected a pulse and took Miceli to University Hospital at 3:05 a.m. on Jan. 5. At Gusman’s request, Sens released her from the sheriff’s custody at 1 p.m. on Jan. 5. She died Jan. 6 after her family decided to remove life support.
In general, there are political issues at stake when district attorneys contemplate bringing criminal charges against those with whom they work closely, Howell said.
Gusman’s spokesman did not return a call for comment.