Criminal Justice

Gusman’s staff won’t be charged in restraining death

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.

Cayne Miceli died in January 2009. Photo courtesy Sophia Miceli

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.

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  • a friend

    they killed her plain and simple-she was a bright ,sweet girl and friend to she had a bad night when the hospital could not properly treat her,but this girl ended up dead due to a system of idiots that new orleans seems to love to keep employed.all they had to do was take her out of restraints and put her in a room alone and void of anything until she was back to her regular self.THEY KILLED MY FRIEND.

  • menum


  • Thanks Matt.
    I hope you can follow Ms Miceli’s family more closely as this proceeds.
    Would you as well report to us if anyone in the OPP/Sheriff’s Dept has been disciplined or whatever regarding this, and if so in what manner?
    Keep it up.

  • H

    They Treat People Like animals there(I was picked up on a traffic stop, and detained there.) I have an autistic son that I was concerned about, and it fell on deaf ears. Everything Did, so I believe they could have blown any pleas off from the victim. I felt helpless and TERRIFIED that I would disappear. I felt on the verge of an anxiety attack. I could see how it easily COULD have been cold negligence. This makes me want to cry, and it could have been me……

  • menum

    If they did investigate, I will bet the bank they didn’t do a very good or thorough job. Surely Leon realizes that the DOJ Special Investigations is in town checking out most of New Orleans’ LE agencies. It would make sense to do everything possible to avoid the appearances of a cover up.

  • G

    Soo sad. I wonder about her becoming agitated at the hospital, especially after an asthma attack. Agitation can occur when someone becomes hypoxic, which clearly could have happened given her compromised respiratory status. I can’t imagine that someone can be put in 5-point restraints for four hours! In the hospital, when someone is in any form of restraint, they have to be checked on every 15 minutes at a minimum. I feel terrible for her family, and hope that they can find justice. This cannot happen again. It never should have happened in the first place.

  • Judy Ann

    It is inconceivable that the gross mistreatment Cayne Miceli suffered is not criminally negligent. Restraints for FOUR HOURS? Held down by THREE DEPUTIES? Picture this, if you will. She COULD NOT BREATHE!!! I supppose one would become very agitated indeed if one was outnumbered, tied down, and fighting for their life. Taken from a hospital to a jail, for demanding additional treatment, then she doesn’t make it through the night. Unbelievable. I sincerely hope that her family will get some justice. Sadly, there was none for Cayne Miceli.

  • bullshot

    WHAT? In my opinion, they ARE at fault!! I, too, have anxiety and depression…I can GUARANTEE if anybody held me in constraints for more than 5 or 10 minutes, I would have an anxiety attack…but 3 NOPD cops doing it to me….with 5 point constraints….for FOUR hours….I would go limp!
    With anxiety, I have attacks even if my socks are too tight…I cannot even imagine being restrained as was Cayne, in that fashion.
    Just the thought of 3 cops restraining me at once, not hearing my story about my illness and the consequences associated with restraining me with anxiety…would make me beligerent! They are all at fault…intentional or not! Sweet, swett Cayne should be here today!!! I believe she would be alive if they had used appropriate methods for her situation with anxiety. Has anybody called WDSU’s “6 on your side”…or the news desk?? NOPD should be held accountable for their mistreatment.

    “And it makes me wonder…” Robert Plant

  • Amy

    Cayne, I’m so sorry.