Former jailer to be sentenced for role in suicide at Orleans prison

Print More

An inmate in the now-closed House of Detention killed himself despite being on suicide watch. The deputy who should have been standing watch is due to be sentenced on malfeasance of duty charges Friday. Photo by Tom Gogola

A former Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy will be sentenced in Criminal Court Friday for his role in the 2011 suicide of William “Bill” Goetzee in Orleans Parish Prison.

William Thompson will appear in Chief Judge Camille Buras’ Criminal District courtroom for sentencing on a felony charge of malfeasance in office.

Thompson pleaded “guilty as charged” said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, according to the Louisiana revised criminal code.

The sentence for Thompson is “a decision the judge makes,” Bowman said. “We intend to put on evidence in the form of victim-impact statement and evidence such as that.”

Goetzee, who was 48 when he died, was a highly decorated Coast Guard commander from LaPlace. According to an FBI statement, he was arrested on Aug. 2, 2011 after he approached a uniformed federal officer and tried to take his gun. The incident  happened at the federal courthouse on Poydras Street.

Goetzee was booked on charges of assaulting a federal officer.

According to a report in The Times-Picayune, Goetzee was distraught at the time of the incident and said he wanted to use the gun to kill himself. Goetzee was sent to Interim LSU Public Hospital for a psychiatric exam before being sent to Orleans Parish Prison and placed on 24-hour suicide watch.

On Aug. 7, Thompson allegedly abandoned his post on the suicide-watch tier for up to three hours, during which time Goetzee committed suicide by choking himself to death with wadded-up toilet paper.

The tragedy occurred on the 10th floor of the House of Detention, which has since been closed by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman.

After an investigation, Gusman arrested Thompson about two weeks after the suicide on a felony malfeasance-in-office charge.

Thompson was booked into the system at 3:15 p.m. Aug. 19, 2011, and released fifteen minutes later on a personal surety bond of $15,000, Bowman said.

Cannizzaro accepted the felony malfeasance charge, and Thompson pleaded guilty to it, Bowman said.

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has been bedeviled with charges of improper and unconstitutional treatment of inmates with mental illness.

On April 23, the U.S. Department of Justice sent Gusman’s attorney an update to a previous, 2009 letter of finding citing widespread unconstitutional conditions at the jails under his control.

The letter singled out the jail’s poor track record in preventing suicides.

“Suicide prevention measures at OPP are grossly inadequate, resulting in unnecessary suffering and very likely leading to at least five suicides since our findings letter in 2009,” read the report. “The jail has inadequate mechanisms to identify suicidal prisoners, inadequate treatment and staffing, and poor training of officers.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Marshal’s Service cited unacceptable conditions when it removed all federal prisoners from the sprawling jail complex.

Gusman and the Justice Department lately have been engaged in negotiations that likely will yield a federal consent decree for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The Justice Department sent Gusman a draft consent decree in November 2011 that, it said, includes “many common sense sustainable remedies to unconstitutional conditions…”

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.