The Orleans Justice Center. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

A 66-year-old detainee in the New Orleans jail whose housing pod was the site of a multi-day protest earlier this month told The Lens that an officer kicked him in the face during a joint operation between the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to retake the unit. 

In an interview late last week, Ronald Craige, said that he complied with orders from officers entering the unit on Sunday, Aug. 14. But after he was handcuffed, he slipped, and an officer responded by kicking him while he was on the ground, causing injuries that had to be treated in the hospital. Craige did not know the name of the officer or specify to The Lens who they worked for, but Craige’s daughter later said that he told her it was a DOC officer.

Craige, who is diabetic, also said that despite claims from Sheriff Susan Hutson’s office, he was never offered insulin during the three-day standoff.

When he was taken to the hospital, his blood sugar was dangerously high, and he had a wound on his face as a result of being kicked that was treated with surgical glue, Craige told The Lens. 

His account of the protest and raid of the pod by OPSO and DOC directly contradicts claims from Hutson’s office, which told The Lens last week that Craige “did not sustain any injuries as a result of Sunday evening’s incident,” and has claimed that all detainees who were part of the protest — and Craige specifically — were offered medication during the protest, but refused it. 

A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, Aug. 12, detainees housed in pod 2E in the New Orleans jail blocked off the entrances to the unit and issued a list of demands, including that they be provided toiletries on a regular basis, taken to court on their appointed dates and given more reading materials. 

The protest ended on Sunday, Aug. 14, when around 50 officers from both the Sheriff’s Office and DOC raided the pod, deploying bean bag rounds, flash-bangs, and a sting-ball grenade. 

The next day, in a public statement, Hutson said  that following the operation, six individuals were taken to the hospital. Five, she said, were taken for “non-life threatening injuries.” And one was a diabetic individual who the office claimed had refused his medicine throughout the course of the protest.

But beyond what the Sheriff’s Office has said publicly, little has been heard from the detainees who were involved in the protest. For nearly two weeks after the protest, it seems, they were unable to use the phones, leaving family members and loved ones in the dark. 

Craige was allowed a phone call on Friday for the first time since the standoff, he said. After returning to the jail from the hospital early the next morning, he was locked in his cell around the clock, let out only three times per week for 15-minute visits to the shower. In a press release the same day, the Sheriff’s Office said that starting that day “former 2E residents will be taken off of lockdown and will be released on the same time schedules as all 24 pods of the Orleans Justice Center.”

‘He busted it open’

Craige’s account calls into question the limited and shifting information put out by the Sheriff’s office related to what, if any, injuries were sustained by detainees during the raid on the pod by Sheriff’s deputies and state DOC officers. 

He said that prior to the raid on the pod, officers told the residents over the speaker that they should lie on their stomachs with their hands behind their back. Craige said that he complied. When officers came in, he remained on his stomach with his hands behind his back, and was placed in handcuffs. 

Officers told him to get up, but Craige slipped on the ground, which was covered in water due to detainees dumping buckets on the ground in preparation for the raid. 

Craige said he was lifted by his handcuffs by an officer. When a Sheriff’s Office deputy tried to explain to the official who Craige was, presumably suggesting that he should be treated gentler due to his age and condition, the officer responded, “I don’t give a f— who he is,” according to Craige.

After Craige was pulled up, he slipped again. That’s when the guard kicked him, he said. 

“He kicked me in the face with his boot,” Craige said. “Right over my eye, because I was on my stomach….He busted it open.”

Ronald Craige with his daughter Deidre. (Photo courtesy of Deidre Craige.)

Despite acknowledging that several detainees were taken to the hospital following the raid, officials with Hutson’s office initially said that they suspected that the injuries were self-inflicted by the detainees to garner sympathy from the media and advocates who had gathered outside the jail on Sunday afternoon.

During an Aug. 15 New Orleans City Council committee meeting, Assistant Sheriff Kristen Morales told the council that they had initially identified “that some of these injuries were self sustained, were in fact that they were cutting themselves superficially,” which Hutson explained was done to “go to the windows to show to the media and the crowds.” 

In a statement that evening, Hutson assured the public that more information would be available the next day. But none was provided. When The Lens inquired about what injuries had been sustained last week, the office declined to elaborate, citing the “privacy rights” of the detainees. 

(The Lens did not request names or identifying information of the residents who were injured.)

On Friday, Aug. 26, OPSO released a statement that said “five residents had minor injuries” related to the protest and raid on pod 2E, but provided no details regarding those injuries or how they were sustained. There were over 40 detainees housed in that unit.

The Lens has requested use of force reports from the incident, but so far none have been provided. 

Craige is not the only one claiming that there were injuries from the raid more serious that the Sheriff’s Office is admitting to. The mother of a man who was being held in pod 2E during the protest told Fox 8 that he suffered several broken ribs and a punctured lung as a result of the raid. 

‘They never came’

Craige also contradicted Hutson’s claims that her office tried to deliver medicine to detainees inside pod 2E during the protest.

In statements to the press, Hutson has said that deputies repeatedly offered to bring medication to 2E detainees who needed it, including Craig, but they refused it. But in a brief phone interview from the jail, Craige disputed that claim. He said that he was given insulin on Friday, Aug. 12, the day the protest began, but was never offered it after that. 

“After that I never got it,” Craige said. ”They never came.” 

Officials said the Sheriff’s Office documented Craig’s alleged refusals, but they declined repeated requests to provide that documentation to The Lens.

“No, that’s not true,” Craige said. “That’s the only way I can survive. I take it everyday.”

The Sheriff’s office has not provided details regarding how exactly the detainees in pod 2E were offered medication during the protest, given the fact that no jail staff was able to enter the pod. 

The protest was orchestrated by six “ringleaders,” the office has said, who were negotiating with Sheriff’s Office deputies regarding their list of demands. But the office has not directly answered questions from The Lens regarding whether the offers for medication were also routed through those six ringleaders, or whether Sheriff’s Office officials were communicating individually with detainees.

Craige said that he was not involved in planning the protest. 

Deidre Craige, Ronald Craige’s daughter, was able to speak to her father for the first time on Friday, two weeks after the protest began. She said that it is the longest she’s gone without talking to him during the nearly two years he’s been locked up while awaiting trial on charges of raping a Tulane student at gunpoint in 1975. And since the protest two weeks ago, she has been able to gather limited information from the Sheriff’s office.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Deidre Craige said after talking to her father. But she said that she felt a sense of relief after finally being able to speak to him. “All I wanted to do was to hear his voice. His voice meant more to me than the story of the trauma he had to face in the jail.”

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...