Criminal Justice
 

The state has reinstated monthly bonuses to some of Gusman’s deputies, but questions remain

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Louisiana Department of the Treasury have put to bed a dispute over his use of state funds to boost some of his employees’ pay.

But it’s not clear that problems identified in a state probe have been resolved. Some employees, for example, appear to have virtually the same jobs, but one of their duties now is to prevent inmates from escaping.

That’s an important change because the $500 monthly supplement is only for people who work directly in law enforcement, not for all employees of a law-enforcement agency.

The Lens examined job descriptions for 53 of about 400 employees for whom Gusman requested pay supplements over the past few months. We compared them to job descriptions he provided in federal court last year in a lawsuit over jail conditions.

We found potential problems with 27 employees:

  • Seven work a portion of the week as jail guards, which doesn’t meet a 50 percent threshold for law-enforcement work identified by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
  • Four do not have any clear law-enforcement duties, including a human resources staffer and one who works in procurement.
  • Sixteen have nearly identical job descriptions as when the dispute began, but now they include inmate supervision or crime prevention.

The Treasury Department, however, has accepted that all the employees are eligible.

“We do not currently have any issues with the information submitted by OPSO [the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office] or any other sheriff,” Thomas Enright, the department’s executive counsel, said in an email.

When we pointed out which employees don’t appear to qualify, Treasury spokeswoman Michelle Millhollon said the state relies on sheriffs to describe deputies’ duties accurately and to notify the state if they change. Gusman hasn’t notified the state in the last year that these employees’ jobs have changed, according to a staff attorney for the Treasury Department.

Last year, the department began to withhold the extra pay from 38 employees whose eligibility was in question. The supplement is meant for people who are actively involved in law enforcement; state law says employees hired “primarily to perform purely clerical or non-enforcement duties” can’t get it.

Gusman sued the Treasury Department for withholding the money. They reached a settlement over the summer, and Treasury has resumed the payments.

Under the terms of the agreement, the deputies received back pay and would get the supplement as long as they worked law-enforcement jobs.

Gusman agreed to provide the state with specific job descriptions. Millhollon said he’s doing that for all of his deputies who get supplements, not just the ones the Treasury Department flagged.

Before, Gusman used the same boilerplate language — “care, custody and control of inmates” — for everyone.

Several positions now have a law-enforcement component: dealing with inmates, preventing crimes or investigating crimes.

For example, this is how the Sheriff’s Office described two employees’ duties in the court filing last year: “Sorts incoming mail (inmates and staff) for distribution and dispatches outgoing mail.”

Here’s what they do now, according to paperwork Gusman filed with the Treasury Department in December: “Inspects all incoming mail for contraband, scans incoming mail for key words, pickup/distribution of mail to inmates in the Orleans Jail Complex.”

Fire and facility inspectors now prevent escapes in addition to conducting fire drills and site inspections, according to their job descriptions. An employee who handles deputies’ off-duty work also prevents escapes now.

Other job descriptions say employees spend 20 percent of their time as guards. This includes an inmate commissary account clerk, two people who were once part of Gusman’s administrative staff, and three who work in the Young Marines, a youth mentorship program that does not involve inmates.

That’s consistent with a report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, which criticized the Sheriff’s Office for rotating ineligible deputies to guard duty for one eight-hour shift per week. To get the supplement, the Legislative Auditor said, Orleans deputies must spend at least half of their time supervising and caring for inmates.

The Legislative Auditor concluded Gusman may have misspent about $1 million in state funds by giving the supplement to deputies who weren’t eligible.

Over about four years, Gusman got the supplement for 56 deputies whose duties appeared to be unrelated to law enforcement, according to the report. Some of them left the agency before the Treasury Department started withholding the pay.

The Lens shared its findings with the jail’s Compliance Director Gary Maynard, who was appointed by a federal judge last fall to run the jail.

Maynard is working to bring the jail into line with the U.S. Constitution. The jail has consistently failed to meet court-ordered benchmarks to clean up its operations, and all sides have said that’s largely because of a shortage of security staff.

In a court hearing last year, a member of the team monitoring the jail complained about seeing a deputy “wearing a sergeant’s insignia who is essentially performing a clerical function.”

Maynard said he’d look into the supplemental pay issue, but he declined an interview request. Gusman spokesman Phil Stelly provided a written statement instead.

“The Lens continues to misinterpret and misapply the laws applicable to state supplemental pay,” Stelly wrote. “Our research reveals that OPSO is complying with those laws and acting in a manner consistent with how those laws have been interpreted and enforced in the past.”

Bryan Collins, the former deputy who brought the issue to The Lens’ attention and asked the Legislative Auditor to investigate, still questions the payouts to some deputies.

“I don’t think they’re all eligible,” he said. “Unfortunately the state is still paying for that. The taxpayers are paying for services they’re not receiving.”

However, Collins now believes some employees whom he had said were ineligible may deserve the pay, based on their latest job descriptions.

Documents filed in federal court early last year said maintenance employees repaired vehicles or delivered items from the warehouse. The new job descriptions submitted to the Treasury Department say they’re directly responsible for overseeing inmates who work maintenance, kitchen or warehouse jobs.

“If you really want to be generous, you can defer to the fact that they may spend some time with inmates,” Collins said.

But a few of the employees, including the acting procurement manager and a human resources employee in charge of background checks, still do not appear to have any law-enforcement responsibilities.

“You still have persons whose duties are purely clerical,” Collins said. “They are clerical in their job descriptions then and in their job descriptions now.”

Collins said the state should collect what it paid to almost 20 former employees who shouldn’t have received the supplements.

He said the state also should get its money back from three people whom Gusman voluntarily removed from the program last year: an accountant, a payroll supervisor and the manager of the Sheriff’s Office’s credit union.

“It’s sort of an admission,” Collins said, “that you did something wrong.”

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