Criminal Justice

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

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…”

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About Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New York, The Nation, and Maxim. Gogola was a 2011 winner of the Hillman Foundation Sidney Award, for his groundbreaking report in New York magazine detailing regulatory waste in the commercial fishing industry.

  • Truth Teller

    They should have arrested Marlin Gusman as well, he knows what is going on in this department, you put one deputy on a tier to watch close to a hundred inmates for twelve hours with no restroom break are relief is inhuman. You have to start at the top before you can arrest a deputy for improper supervision, they can’t be punished for not being properly trained, are relieved as well as having other deputies assist them on a big tier like that. Where was the rank in charge? Why was he the only deputy on the tier? Was the rank charged and fired as well? I can answer all of these ?’s. The rank was probally sleep are off there assignments, the relief he never was sent one even afer he called on numerous times, the rank was not charged fired are disciplined because there Marlin Gusmans friends so they get a pass, but this young man is going to be a lost for words for many years to come from our lack of leadership. Marlin Gusman hire and have more criminals that work for him than the one he house. FBI ARREST MARLIN GUSMAN NOW…

  • Steve

    I think this illustrates the need for more mental heath outreach and services as this might not have even come to be if Goetzee was able to get help in the first place. Second, while this might remove the individual responsible for watching him, is there something with the system that enables this lack of attention? In other words, will an arrest really stop the problem or is there something about the institution and how it handles its prisoners that needs fixing?

  • Truth Teller

    The prison and it’s leaders needs to be fix Steve, start at the top and clean house for change for the better.

  • Alison Jonus

    If he left his post for 3 hours he must have been pretty sure it was the acceptable thing to do….he could not have been the first, just the first that had a terrible thing happen….he should spill the beans!!!!

  • Gordon Smith

    Until the Feds move-in and takeover OPP, the beatings, thefts and deaths at the hands of deputies will continue.
    What happens inside those walls is 100x worse than what happens at Guantanamo Bay GITMO or Abu Ghraib.
    America goes to war to stop these human rights abuses, but fails to hold law enforcement accountable.
    New Orleans is the craphole of prisons.

  • OPSO Deputy

    Don’t commit the crime in NOLA if you can’t do the time at OPP!!!!

    It is a sad situation but if a person truly wants to commit suicide there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it; it can only be delayed!

  • Truth Teller

    He didn’t leave his post for 3 hours that’s what the Sheriff Department reported to cover up their tracks for Marlin Gusman and his friends. Just think if he was gone for 3 hours where was the rank and why didn’t they know he was gone, HOD is operated by the use of an elevator only from the control booth, if it was true who let him off the floor and not reported it. It’s a cover up and a lie and also he was suppose to have atleast two other deputies on the floor with him. The department is so unorganized, crooket and short handed you are left to do 5 deputies jobs by yourself. It’s sad that this young man had to take the heat from this suicide, but it is impossible to stop this behavior if inmates is not getting their proper treatment and the deputies are not being relieved are trained properly. The sheriff can’t train properly because he don’t even know his own handbook are the law it’s sad we elect an official to office because of whom he knows, if we continue to do that New Orleans will never change and we will keep having these crooked politicians that don’t know what they are doing. Once again remove Marlin Gusman and his crew from office and let the FBI take over and we can see a real change, clean house from top to bottom. Gusman is going to hell and he knows it GOD don’t sleep and neither do Marlin from all the stress that is why he piles that makeup on his face to hide the bags. I hope he have his commisary money when he go to the FEDS, he will need it because he will be there for a long time. My prayers go out to the inmates family and also the deputy whose life was interupted by Marlin Gusman and his get over crew.

  • benelux

    All due respect, Truth Teller, because I do respect all the info you have been providing. Where was he when the inmate died? Was there some other sort of foul play? Was he attending to official business? Taking a nap? How did they get him to plead guilty? Is Gusman really going down?? Are you saying they are short handed and 2 deputies short on the tier, or that they have less employees than what is listed on the payroll? Have you communicated all of this to the Feds directly? If not, why not? It warms my heart to know that Gusman is really scared now.

  • benelux

    I meant I respect you for providing all this info.

  • Truth Teller

    Well Benelux i’m on your side as well, I don’t agree with any person losing there life, whether it’s from himself are anyone else, but I can tell you is that the Feds are aware of what is going on. When I tell you that they are short handed I’m letting you know that they are not following State are Federal guidelines to the deputy inmate ratio, that is why the feds are putting a descent decree in order to protect the inmates and staff from unconstituional things like this. I don’ t agree with what happenened, but if you punish one you have to punish all, from Gusman to the rank on down, he is only doing what he thinks is his job and also he is allowed a restroom break, a lunch break and also two 15 min breaks, if your the only one on the tier of a hundred people and no relief for 12 hours, ? What would you do? I’m sure he gave what was needed to get a plea deal, because the Feds already knows what is going on and the deputies position in this situation. This was a Federal inmate which means this youngman was suppose to be in Fedral Court , i’m sure he will live with this for the rest of his life, that is all ready a punishment, I don’t think he needs to be punished twice for lack of leadership. I do believe Gusman is going to jail, you cant slide by twice the Feds owe him from Morial camp.

  • Truth Teller

    Benelux they only put one deputy on a tier, that is why when this youngman went to use the restroom the inmate was able to proceed with taking his on his life, if there were more deputies on the tier this would have never happend. I do believe using the restroom is official buisness especially if you have to try and hold it for 12 hours with no relief…

  • benelux

    So, Goetzee was not on HOD 10? Where was he? Did they keep only 1 deputy on HOD 10? How many patients/inmates are up there at one time? How did another inmate find him? Can they see from cell to cell? This deputy was assigned to watch a whole tier and keep constant suicide watch on an inmate? That is nuts.

  • Truth Teller

    Goetzee was on the 10th floor, but it is only 1 deputy to a floor to watch all these people, now you can understand how Marlin Gusman run the sheriff department and it’s time for a change for someone who will care and do the job right. All Marlin Gusman worry about is making appearances and winning another term, he dont care about the inmates welfare are his staff unless it’s his friends he bought in with him, so they will go out with him and some will even go to jail with him, none of them are loyal I know I sit in the rank meetings every week and listen to how dumb and foolish Marlin Gusman is, all he want is someone to agree with anything he says even if it’s wrong and you will get a raise and promotion even if you are not qualified for the position, and you are not even qualified to run a horse and pony show. Half of his rank and staff don’t even have High School diplomas and one of the qualifications for a job is to have one and not have a record, yet more than half of his staff are criminals who have been arrested, and have records, so how you exspect another criminal to watch inmates when they use to be one. EXAMPLE STEPHANIE NEVEAUX used to be Gusman secretary
    ” History ” check writing in California, issusing bad checks in Louisiana, Domestic Violence, sleeping and moving with an inmate and now F****ng Col. Melvin Howard. Col. Melvin Howard “History” Payroll Fraud, Domestic Violence, changing speeding ticket and under Federal Investigation,Captain Don Ditta “History” Child Molestation and More. See Benelux this is what Marlin Gusman likes. We don’t have enough time in a day to name everyone in the sheriff barn, so just encourage other people to go to the pollls and vote for change…

  • benelux

    Thank you, Truth Teller. They don’t care how their playing and scratching destroys lives. What was dark is finally coming to light.

  • Truth Teller

    You are welcome Benelux,
    just help make a difference at the polls and elect someone who can and will do the job. Sometimes people need encouragement and things bought to the light to get change. Not just another shady politician in a cheap suit.

  • The Real Cajun Justice

    This is directed to the individual who posted as “OPSO Deputy”. I cannot believe that you had the audacity to post that comment: “Do not commit the crime in NOLA if you can’t do the time at OPP”. People like you are the reason that the criminal justice system — especially our jails and prisons — is in the condition it is in now. You cannot justify what happened in this situation by saying that if someone is hell-bent on committing suicide, they simply cannot be stopped. On the contrary, if someone is in an altered state-of-mind and are displaying psychotic symptoms, even if they say they are suicidal or take steps toward harming themselves, that may just well be their altered state-of-mind taking control. That man may not have been suicidal at all, but he most probably was suffering from an altered mental status. He just needed professional help and probably medication, and had he received that prior to the incident, the incident would have more than likely not occurred. What all of you deputies and correctional officers do not understand is that when a person is arrested for a crime, they are not considered guilty until the jury or the judge pronounce them as such. They are still entitled to the full panopoly of their rights that are guaranteed by the constitution. If you work for the Sheriff’s Office in any parish of this state, you took an oath. That oath did not say that you would do your job until your relief got there, or until it was break time, or only when the jail was staffed according to state standards. That deputy was assigned to a post and he abandoned it. He was supposed to be watching that man, and because of him deciding that something else was more important than insuring that man’s safety, a life was lost. It is a very sad day when things like this happen, because I think of all the possibilities. This was a sworn law enforcement officer who could have been assigned to protect the communities that we live in. I would not feel comfortable having this person protecting me and my family because it would be troubling to call for assistance only to find that the deputy had decided to take a break because he was tired. Then, from the comment you posted, it seems as though the attitude at the OPCSO is basically “Oh, well, it is what it is”. Although Marlin Gusman is not one(1) of my favorite people, his front-line employees are the one(1)’s responsible for what actually takes place in OPCSO’s facilities. The front-line staff are the one(1)’s who beat the offenders without mercy in what ya’ll call “The Body Shop” in the fifth floor of OPP. Yes, “OPSO Deputy”, people know about the body shop. We know how ya’ll beat those offenders halfway to death, and then leave them up there — hidden, without food or water — until they heal from all the injuries ya’ll caused them. I communicate with many offenders who are in state custody who were incarcerated at OPCSO’s facilities, and they have told me a lot of what goes on there. And, I plan on sharing what I have been told. And, I also plan on telling the feds everything. You better let all of your buddies know that Marlin Gusman is going to be taking a lot of cellmates with him when he goes to federal prison. I would love to see how those tough deputies would act in prison. I bet if someone would ask them what kind of job they had before going to prison, they would probably say that they were a manager at Walmart or a School Bus Driver. They would not be so tough anymore. In conclusion, the deputy should be sent to prison. He should also have been charged with negligent homicide because his negligence contributed to that offender’s death.