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

On Wednesday, a federal magistrate judge handling the jail’s long-running consent decree continued to express concerns over a lack of transparency by Sheriff Susan Hutson’s administration, saying he still has not received any information regarding two deaths that occured in the facility over the summer.

“That’s two deaths in the jail that we don’t know anything about other than the fact that they happened,” Magistrate Judge Michael North said at a status conference. “We still haven’t heard anything about any investigations. Nobody has.”

In June, two detainees at the jail died in a single weekend. Philip Soublet, 31, was killed during a fight involving three other detainees. Under questioning by the City Council, Hutson acknowledged that no security deputies were on the pod during that incident. 

Chad Neyland, a 46-year-old who had been booked in the jail days earlier, died of a suspected suicide when he jumped off a mezzanine. 

Despite occurring months ago, no investigations into either of the deaths have been released. 

“The court is completely in the dark trying to get to the bottom of what happened,” North said. “I find it hard to believe that you haven’t closed any of these investigations yet of things that happened in June.” 

Even if the investigations are ongoing, North said, he still should be receiving information on their progress. 

Hutson was present at the meeting — which North had ordered — but did not participate. 

It’s not the first time North has expressed his frustration with Hutson over lack of transparency. During an August status conference, he ripped OPSO attorney Graham Bosworth for failing to provide the court information regarding critical incidents. 

Since that time, he North acknowledged that he had been getting more regular updates from the office when serious incidents occurred at the jail — which have been frequent. He said he was aware of eight stabbings in the jail, ten detainees routed to the hospital, four suspected overdoses, and two alleged sexual assaults between the August hearing and the one on Wednesday. 

But he said that there was no follow-up regarding what was being done with regards to how those incidents were investigated or assessed by OPSO.  North said that it was important for the Court, along with the other parties in the consent decree and the federal monitors who track its progress, to have more information  so they can “be in the best position to help the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s Office to try to address some of these problems.”

Bosworth said at the hearing that the office was working on doing a better job of providing regular updates to the court and the other parties, and was allowing the other parties to get information directly from Assistant Sheriff Kristen Morales.

But Emily Washington, an attorney with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, who represents people incarcerated in the jail, said that while she was getting “more frequent daily production” of reporting on critical incidents at the jail, there was still a lot of information that she hadn’t received.  

And while reports can sometimes be exempt from public records laws when there is an ongoing investigation, Washington said that under prior consent decree agreements those exemptions should not apply to her office. 

In addition to the two deaths, she said that she was also not being provided information regarding a planned use of force involving DOC officers following a multi-day protest inside the jail in August. 

Initially, the Sheriff’s Office said that only “minor injuries” had been sustained during that use of force, during which deputies and DOC officers deployed bean bag rounds, flash bangs, and a sting ball grenade. But The Lens spoke to several detainees who said that they had suffered broken bones, collapsed lungs, and other serious injuries as a result of the raid. 

Washington also said they had received limited information regarding a shakedown of the facility conducted by DOC officers in September. The Lens reported that there were several uses of force that resulted in detainees being injured during that incident as well, though OPSO did not appear to include them in a weekly public incident report. 

“We have followed up on these requests multiple times,” Washington said. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of accountability.”

North ordered the Sheriff’s Office to produce a plan in two weeks detailing how it will report incidents going forward — including what investigative steps are being taken and how the root causes of the issues are being addressed. 

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...