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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

When the news broke last week about the widespread performance of HYSTERECTOMIES on Latino detainees at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, it sparked outrage and disgust, as it well should have.

But it might come as a surprise to some that this wasn’t the first rodeo for the Ruston, Louisiana, company that operates the detention center in Ocilla, Georgia.

Between May 2015 and June 2019, no fewer than six prisoners have died while incarcerated at the LaSalle-run Bi-State Jail and Annex operated in Texarkana, Texas, according to a federal LAWSUIT filed as a result of the most recent, the particularly gruesome June 17, 2019 death of Holly Barlow Austin, 46, was arrested on April 5, 2019, for probation violation and taken to Bi-State.

Bowie County in February 2013 contracted Southwestern Corrections, LLC, dba LaSalle Corrections to operate all aspects of the Bi-State Jail and the Annex, including the provision of medical care to inmates, pretrial detainees and post-conviction prisoners.

Texarkana attorney David Carter told LouisianaVoice that the lawsuit, filed in the Texarkana Division of U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas, of behalf of Barlow-Austin’s mother and husband, is his fourth lawsuit filed against LaSalle and his third wrongful death case.

The one non-death case was that of William Jones was “released” to his sister by LaSalle after being beaten so severely at LaSalle’s Bi-State facility that he was near death when she had him transported to a hospital by ambulance. He was placed on a ventilator and remained hospitalized for nearly a month.

His crime? Jaywalking. But rather than addressing the constitutional deficiencies in Jones’s case, LaSalle sought to conceal facts “by destroying surveillance footage and other relevant information,” Carter said. We’ll have more on Jones’s case and others in the coming days. To do a single story on all of them together would be far too long and convoluted, so LaSalle is going to be treated to extended coverage much as we did Louisiana State Police under Mike Edmonson.

But as an example of one of the most glaring cases of neglect, cruelty and dereliction of duty, this post will dwell on the two and one-half months of Barlow-Austin’s pre-trial detention leading up to her last pitifully tragic 48 hours. To see a video of what torment and torture she experienced during those hours, click HERE. (WARNING: BECAUSE OF ITS GRAPHIC NATURE, THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT VIDEO TO WATCH.)

During those two and one-half months of incarceration, her physical condition deteriorated markedly though she was not released to an area hospital until it was too late.

And releasing critically ill prisoners to relatives or a hospital, is a tactic of subterfuge favored by LaSalle, says attorney Carter, because if the prisoner dies at home or in a hospital LaSalle is relieved of the responsibility of reporting an in-custody death to state corrections officials.

At the time she was admitted to Bi-State, she was living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and suffered from depression and bipolar disorder and was undergoing treatment for substance abuse. She was taking Triumeq for her HIV condition, Fluconazole for the treatment of potentially deadly fungal infections (including cryptococcal meningitis), and Quetiapine for her bipolar disorder and Citalopram for depression.

Despite that, on the morning of April 6, 2019, when she was admitted to Bi-State, her blood pressure was 118/73, which Carter described as “ideal” in his petition. The following day, the intake nurse faxed a request for information on her medical conditions to her outside medical provider. The LaSalle medical staff did not receive a response until May 13, however, five weeks after making the initial request. No follow-up request was ever made.

On April 8, Barlow-Austin’s husband brought her medications to Bi-State and later that same day, blood tests performed on her showed her white blood cell count (CD4) was 87, far below the normal range of 500-1,500, an indication that her immune system was compromised. She didn’t receive any of her medications, however, until April 17.

Her husband visited her several times and by April 30, it was apparent to him that her physical condition was in sharp decline. Her blood pressure had risen to 154/92 but she was given only a Tylenol by LaSalle staff.

When she complained of headaches and numbness in her legs, Michelle Arnold a registered nurse and the Health Services Administrator (HAS) employed by LaSalle (and one of the defendants in the lawsuit), told an outside mental health provider that Barlow-Austin “pretends to be weak” and “knows how to play the sickly role,” according to the lawsuit filed by Carter last Wednesday (Sept. 16).

Another check showed her blood pressure to be 160/90 and by now she had a urinary tract infection but again, LaSalle ignored her worsening condition, Carter said.

Michael Austin continued to visit his wife over the ensuing weeks and observed that her condition was becoming more severe. She was placed on medical observation on May 21, but no medical treatments were administered, the lawsuit alleges.

Over the next 10 days, the petition says, no LaSalle medical provider evaluated her nor were her vital signs taken. By June 1, she lost all strength and feeling in her legs and her eyesight worsened until she was finally totally blind and had to feel her way as she crawled around her room. “The ongoing failure to take her to the hospital was cruel and inhumane,” the lawsuit says.

A week later, an LPN “looked in Ms. Barlow-Austin’s cell. She wrote in her progress notes that the inmate remained in ‘med obs,’ meaning a medical observation cell.” The nurse wrote, “0 needs voiced at this time,” and “0 distress noted.” That would become a recurring notation on all the LaSalle reports, Carter said, adding that records and state-mandated logs of visual checks were routinely falsified by LaSalle staff.

“For the next 48 hours,” he said, “Ms. Barlow-Austin remained in this medical observation cell, which contains an in-house surveillance camera. The video footage is broken down into nearly two thousand video clips, most of which are between 30 seconds and two minutes long. In nearly all the clips…Ms. Barlow-Austin’s serious medical needs are plainly evident.

“It’s also plainly evident from the footage that Ms. Barlow-Austin has gone blind.” He said video footage “shows her crawling and blindly feeling her way around the cell. As the hours went by, guards would place a cup of water on the floor only to have her accidentally knock the cup over because she couldn’t see it. Meanwhile, guards would observe her as she unsuccessfully tried to reach for the water and then walk away. On another occasion, water is placed inside her cell but soon taken away before she can feel around for it. When she finally was able to get a drink, it was only because a fellow inmate held the cup and guided her hand to it. “After handing her the cup of water, the inmate sets the second cup on the floor and backs out of the cell, covering his nose with his shirt to protect himself from the stench emanating from her cell,” the petition says.

After 36 hours in the observation cell, Barlow-Austin had drunk only two small cups of water and it had been 18 hours since her last drink.

Even after she began displaying symptoms of mental confusion and delirium, none of LaSalle’s health care providers took action in response to her ongoing medical crisis.

At 7:22 p.m. on June 10, a guard opened a food tray slot and placed two paper cups of water on it. Barlow-Austin, however, had no idea that the water was there, only a few feet in front of her. She was lying on a mat soaked with her own urine and excrement, but was too week to flip the mat over and ended up lying back on it. By 9:30 p.m., it had been 21 hours since her last drink even though the two cups of water had been in her cell door’s food tray slot for two hours.

An hour later, at 10:22 p.m., a nurse entered the cell for the first time in the past 38 hours that Barlow-Austin had been in the medical observation cell. For the first time in more than two weeks, her vital signs were taken and her heart rate was 130 beats per second and her blood pressure 177/123, indicative of a hypertensive crisis. Still, no decision to call 911 was made, nor is there any entry in LaSalle’s records to indicate that those findings were reported to a higher-level medical provider.

Shortly before 8 a.m., she was moved to the facility’s medical lab where her heart rate was now 148 beats per minute, more than twice the rate when she was admitted. Her pupils were not reactive to light and it was only at that point that 911 was finally summoned.

Ms. Barlow-Austin didn’t suddenly take a turn for the worse on the morning of June 11, 2019,” Carter says in his petition. “Her medical condition warranted hospitalization long before then. (emphasis Carter’s). By the time LaSalle finally arranged for her to be transported to the hospital, she’d been complaining about increasingly severe symptoms for nearly two months. Despite her alarming and progressively worsening symptoms, LaSalle never arranged to have her evaluated by a medical doctor.”

“During the final 48 hours of her confinement, only one nurse entered her cell to check her vitals. This occurred on the night of June 10, 2019. LaSalle guard routinely walked by her medical observation cell window – either without looking in at all, or looking in and ignoring her filthy conditions, obvious pain, physical disability and blindness. Multiple guard violated their state-mandated obligation to conduct face-to-face checks every 30 minutes.

“No one from LaSalle informed Ms. Barlow-Austin’s family that she had been hospitalized – not her husband who frequently visited her in jail, and not her parents. Between June 11 and June 14, her family had no idea that she was in the local hospital, in critical condition, barely clinging to life.

“On June 15, 2019, Ms. Barlow-Austin’s husband went to visit her. When he arrived, LaSalle guards told him that his wife was no longer in the unit. When he asked why, LaSalle wouldn’t tell him.” The lawsuit said he didn’t learn where she was until the Bowie County sheriff told him. “When the family arrived at the hospital, the LaSalle guard wouldn’t let them visit her. Again, it required a call to the local sheriff for the family to get in to visit her.

Two days later, on June 17, she was dead.

“In the years leading up to 2019, (LaSalle) engaged in a patter, practice and custom of unconstitutional conduct toward inmates with serious medical need,” Carter said.

“In the years leading up to the death of Holly Barlow-Austin, LaSalle-run facilities in Texas routinely failed inspections. LaSalle has had ‘continual noncompliance issues in Texas, more than other jail operators in the state. LaSalle-run jails in Texas have been on the state’s noncompliance list every year between 2015 and 2019.

“LaSalle facilities have also come under scrutiny by state lawmakers for hiring a disproportionate number of ‘temporarily licensed’ corrections officers – taking advantage of a loophole that allowed correctional facilities to hire and staff their jails for up to one year with guards who hadn’t gone through the basic corrections training academy. LaSalle did this purely for monetary reasons and without regard for inmate health and welfare. Hiring these untrained guards was cheaper than hiring experienced guards or paying to send them to the corrections academy for basic training.”

Carter said LaSalle also failed to give guards state-mandated one-the-job training and that guards have engaged in a “persistent pattern” of falsifying training records. He said guards have testified that LaSalle literally instructed corrections officers to fill out training records attesting that their one-the-job training had been completed when in fact, it had not even begun.

“In addition to its inadequate training, the practice of insufficient staffing has been a well-documented and persistent problem at LaSalle-run Texas jails,” leading to several of the constitutionally-deficient practices for which LaSalle has been cited, Carter said.

“When LaSalle places an inmate on medical observation, zero medical monitoring takes place,” the lawsuit says. “Instead, corrections officers with no medical training or experience are put in charge of monitoring them and their so-called monitoring consists of guards quickly peeking in the calls – often while walking by without stopping.”

Additionally, the suit claims, LaSalle-run facilities have a “longstanding practice of poor medical record-keeping and miscommunication among jail medical providers. This has been a major problem at Bi-State Jail where medical records are routinely lost, and communication breakdowns are commonplace.”

The lawsuit then leveled a devastating charge when it said, “…the failure to secure needed medical care for Ms. Barlow-Austin was motivated, in part, by constitutionally impermissible profit-driven reasons. The corporate defendants (LaSalle) had a practice of submitting unrealistically low bids to get jail contracts. After securing the contracts, they would then cut costs, or keep their budgets unrealistically low to make money. This included hiring inexperienced jail guards and lower-level nurses and failing to invest in adequate training. It also included spending inadequate amounts on correctional medical care and habitually understaffing its facilities. It was foreseeable that LaSalle’s inadequate training, insufficient medical spending and understaffing would cause harm to inmates and detainees in need of medical care. In fact, these reckless profit-driven practices resulted in substantial harm to multiple inmates in the years leading up to Ms. Barlow-Austin’s confinement. And these same unconstitutional practices caused her unnecessary suffering and death.

“LaSalle attempted to circumvent the state-mandated in-custody death reporting requirement by releasing Ms. Barlow-Austin from custody at the hospital when death was imminent – later claiming that it didn’t have to report her death because she technically wasn’t ‘in custody’ when she died. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards later learned of her death from a third-party source and requested information from LaSalle. LaSalle only provided the commission a limited amount of information and failed to provide it with the shocking video footage. Still, on October 15, 2019, the TCJS found LaSalle to be out of compliance with jail standards for not following the instructions of designated physicians, not dispensing prescription medications, and not verifying the medication that Ms. Barlow-Austin’s husband delivered to the jail…”

 

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Question: How long should it take to complete an investigation of an “in custody death” involving Louisiana State Troopers LSP) and a deputy from the Union Parish Sheriff’s Office?

Well, in the words of one retired state trooper, such investigations are normally carried out “quick, fast, and in a hurry.”

So, why has the death of Ronald Greene at the hands of six troopers and deputy Christopher Harpin of Union Parish taken 16 months and counting?

Because “they’re circling the wagons,” says the retired trooper (I’ll call him Bob, though that’s not his real name. He prefers not to be quoted by name, but he did admit he viewed part of the body cam video of Greene’s take-down and describes it every bit as bad as the GEORGE FLOYD (the man who died as a Minneapolis Officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck) death. The infamous photo that showed Derek Chauvin calmly holding Floyd down with his knee until he died has sparked more than three months of protests.

Bob told LouisianaVoice that he “saw part of the video” and “overheard part of the conversation” of LSP investigators as they reviewed the video. “There were several troopers in the room as I walked past. Any time there’s lethal-force death, it’s pushed up the chain of command. They were talking about something being wrong.

He said he paused at the door and observed officers holding Greene on the ground. “I’ve never recalled holding anybody on the ground once he’s cuffed. We’re not trained to do that. We’re trained to get them cuffed and into our unit (patrol car). I asked if he (Greene) was cuffed and they (the investigators) said yeah.

“That really gets to me,” he said. “It’s no different than it’s ever been. A simple solution is to be honest, but they’re not doing that.”

LouisianaVoice made a public records request for the investigation report, disciplinary records stemming from Green’s death and all text messages between deputy sheriffs in Union and Ouachita parishes and any of the six troopers involved.

The request for text messages was based on reports LouisianaVoice received that such exchanges pertaining to the Greene death did, in fact exist, though the content of the messages is unknown.

We first received the stock answer that records would be reviewed and redacted as necessary and if deemed public, the records would be ready in 45 days – an abnormally long time to respond to a public records request.

I emailed a response from Faye Morrison’s administrative assistant expressing my displeasure at such a long wait:

From: Tom Aswell
Sent: Friday, September 4, 2020 3:40 PM
Subject: RE: PRR – Ronald Greene

Please convey to Ms. Morrison that 45 days in unacceptable. You can redact an entire book in fewer than 45 days. Please have the requested documents prepared and ready for examination by close of business on September 17. That’s 10 working days. This is not negotiable.

LSP attorney Faye Morrison also informed me that an investigative report (and all related documents) “is pending review with the Lincoln/Union District Attorney’s Office (both parishes are in the 3rd Judicial District).”

 

Following is the latest communication LouisianaVoice received from attorney Morrison:

From: Faye Morrison <Faye.Morrison@la.gov>
Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2020 2:05 PM
To: ‘louisianavoice@outlook.com’ <louisianavoice@outlook.com>
Cc: Nick Manale <Nick.Manale@la.gov>; Chavez Cammon <Chavez.Cammon@la.gov>
Subject: PRR to LSP for documents related to the “pursuit, arrest and death of Ronald Greene”

Dear Mr. Aswell:  Please be advised that the information you seek in your public records request for:

All audio and/or video recordings taken during the pursuit, arrest and death of Ronald Greene in Ouachita and Union Parishes on the night of May 09/May 10, 2019;
·           All investigative reports conducted by Louisiana State Police of said incident;
·           All records of disciplinary actions taken against any and/or all Louisiana State Troopers involved in the incident, including but not limited to Trooper Dakota DeMoss, Master Troopers Chris Hollingsworth and Kory York, Sgt. Floyd McElroy, Lt. John Clary and Capt. John Peters;
·           All text messages between any deputy sheriffs from Union or Ouachita Parishes, particularly Union Parish Deputy Christopher Harpin, and any and all of the aforementioned members of LSP, in reference to Ronald Greene
,

is not considered public at this time pursuant to La. R.S. 44:3(A)(1).  LSP conducted a criminal investigation into the incident and that investigative report (and all related documents) is pending review with the Lincoln/Union Parish District Attorney’s Office.  Our administrative investigation into the same is ongoing. (Emphasis mine) As you know, this office does not maintain standing requests due to the volume of requests we receive.  That being said, please feel free to request an update at any time.  fdm

To date, only one trooper, Chris Hollingsworth, was placed on LEAVE – but not until last month, 15 months after Greene’s death.

A lawsuit has been filed by attorneys Ronald Haley of Baton Rouge and Mark Maguire of Philadelphia against the six troopers, Harpin and a “John Doe” corporation that manufactures Electronic Control Weapons (tasers allegedly used on Greene). Troopers’ statements given about the incident are conflicting and inconsistent, giving us sufficient doubt about events leading up to Greene’s death. Text messages, if they exist, could give insight into officers’ attempts get their stories straight. (Haley also represents the family of Trayford Pellerin, who was killed by Lafayette police on Aug. 21. About 100 persons gathered at the State Capitol on Friday to protest that and other police shootings of Black people.)

That possibility, by itself, casts yet another cloud on LSP, which has experienced several negative news stories over the past six years, beginning with attempts by former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson and then-Sen. (not State Rep.) Neil Riser to circumvent regulations that, if successful, would have given Edmonson more than $100,000 per year in additional retirement benefits.

Greene initially fled from State Police in Ouachita Parish and did not stop until he sideswiped a tree in Union Parish, doing minor damage to the rear driver’s side of the vehicle. He exited his car under his own power and began apologizing for not stopping initially

Among the discrepancies:

  • Greene’s family was initially told by police that Greene had died after hitting a tree;
  • A call for Emergency Medical Services concealed the face that lethal force had been used;
  • The police report failed to indicate the use of force;
  • Officers claimed that Greene was intoxicated before leaning that a toxicology exam found no alcohol or drugs in Greene’s system;
  • Greene’s body was transported out of state for an autopsy, thereby denying the family’s right to have a representative observe the autopsy;
  • An emergency room physician at Glenwood Hospital in West Monroe said, “Upon obtaining more history from different law enforcement, personnel, history seems to be disjointed and does not add up. Different versions are present…family states they were told by law enforcement that patient died on impact with tree immediately after motor vehicle accident, but law enforcement state(ed) to me that patient far out of the car and running and involved in a fight and struggle where…he was tased three times.”

 

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That investigation into the death of Kimberly Gail Womack 11 years ago has gone from an accidental fall to an unsolved homicide that, because it has morphed into a “pending investigation,” any records pertaining to the investigation, the coroner’s report, the certificate of death, or the autopsy report are off-limits for public release.

So says Ali Zito Meronek, assistant district attorney for the 18th Judicial District.

LouisianaVoice, pursuant to it story of Feb. 19, made the following public records request of DA Ricky Ward, Jr.:

“The complete file on the investigation of the death of Kimberly Gail Womack (August 1, 2008), DOB: 08/0611959, including, but not limited to:

  • The Certificate of Death;
  • The Autopsy Report;
  • A copy of the Coroner’s Permission to Cremate;
  • A copy of the statute governing the cremation of bodies while a homicide investigation is ongoing;
  • The names of all detectives and/or officers actively involved in the investigation.

If any or all of the requested information is not subject to disclosure, please inform me in writing (as per Louisiana’s Public Records Statute) as to the reason for your denial. Also, please provide an update as to the status of this investigation as of Feb. 19, 2020.”

You can read that story by clicking HERE.

On Feb. 27, we received the following response from Meronek:

“As there was no arrest made in conjunction with this investigation, the District Attorney’s office does not have a file in its possession. Furthermore, if we did have an open file in conjunction with this investigation it is our opinion that none of the record is subject to the public records request, as this is an unsolved case that is still under investigation.

“Additionally, it is our position that there is no exception to this rule that records of pending investigations are exempt from public records requests found in LSA R.S. 44:3 which would apply to you or to the office/ entity requesting these records. Furthermore, as there has been no arrest in conjunction with this investigation of any person to date, there is no portion of the file which is public such as would be the case where there had been the arrest of a person (i.e. initial report, excluding narratives, booking information or bills of information or indictment). The case is classified as pending investigation.”

So, what First Assistant DA Tony Clayton blew off by telling Womack’s daughter Kathryn Simpson of Shreveport that she would “never know” the full story of her mother’s death is now a “pending investigation” of more than 11 years with no arrest or resolution in sight.

This case, folks, is beginning to look more and more like one of those cases authorities hope will just fade away so as to protect a married sheriff’s deputy who was having an affair with Womack. Suddenly, the person who might be considered a person of interest is the one being protected as a potential victim while a murdered woman is hopefully quietly forgotten?

Is this how justice is defined in Louisiana? Sadly, it may well be.

With Womack having suffered a side subdural hematoma from a blunt force trauma to the head as well as multiple fractured ribs and “multiple bruises and abrasions on the upper and lower extremities as well as the midfrontal region of the face,” according to the six-page autopsy report, it would seem that the deputy might have at least been questioned as to his whereabouts at the time of Womack’s death.

That’s not to say he would have been tagged as a suspect or even a person of interest. But that would have generated an investigative file, which the DA conveniently does not have.

It would be of some comfort to Simpson to at least know the Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Office performed a cursory investigation of the scene. Simpson, for example, was initially told there no were fingernail clippings and scrapings taken from her mother’s body—only to learn later that there were. So, what became of those clippings? Were they tested for DNA? Were any neighbors questioned? Did investigators check for area surveillance cameras?

Instead, all we get from the 18th JDC DA’s office is a terse letter informing us that it has no investigative file—and, apparently, no communications from the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Ms. Simpson would like answers and we believe she’s entitled to receive some.

Eleven years is a long time to wait for the phone to ring.

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24/7 Wall Street, that research outfit that reports on vehicle resale values, education, oil, infrastructure, state rankings in poverty, wealth, health, obesity, taxes, crime, and anything else that might possibly be of interest, has come up with a survey with a twist: the worst statistic for each state.

Readers of LouisianaVoice are aware that Louisiana has a lot of negatives—and positives—because we’ve been reporting 24/7 Wall Street’s findings for years now.

But to list the single worst negative for each state tells us a lot about not only Louisiana, but our neighbors as well.

Sadly, for Louisiana, it’s our murder rate: 11.4 murders per 100,000 residents, the highest in the nation and in fact, more than double the national homicide rate of 5.0 murders per 100,000, according to FBI figures.

That pretty much goes hand in glove with another statistic that was not mentioned in the latest survey: Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, making Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

In fact, a story in the BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE just last week noted that the number of people serving life sentences in Louisiana today—nearly 5,000—is almost three times the total prison population in Louisiana in 1970.

It should come as no surprise that Louisiana imposes life sentences at the highest rate in the nation—another harsh statistic you won’t find on tourist brochures.

But lest one get the impression the grass is always greener, here’s a peek at the most negative factoids about our neighbors:

Mississippi: Highest poverty rate in the nation (a staggering 19.7 percent, 50 percent higher than the national rate of 13.1 percent).

Alabama: The lowest concentration of mental health professionals of any state (91 for every 100,000 people, far behind Massachusetts which ranks first with more than six times that ratio).

Florida: Hit with more tropical storms and hurricanes (229) than another other state since 1851.

Georgia: the lowest immunization rate (65.6 percent) of young children than any other state for diseases like mumps, measles, and tetanus.

Kentucky: The smallest pension funding ratio of any state (33.9 percent).

Missouri: More drug labs (3,022) over the past 20 years than any other state—far exceeding number 2 Oklahoma with 2,357.

North Carolina: “The highest amount spent on out-of-pocket medical expenses (14% of median income) by residents under age 65.”

Oklahoma: Highest uninsured rate among adults age 19 to 64 (20 percent compared to the national uninsured rate of 12 percent).

South Carolina: More driving deaths per capita (20.4 per 100,000 population) than every other state except Mississippi. The national per capita figure is 11.5 per 100,000.

Tennessee: A larger percentage of adults (5.4 percent) have suffered a stroke than in any other state. Nationally, 3.4 percent of American adults have had a stroke.

Texas: A larger share of the Texas population (18.6 percent) lacks health insurance than any other state. Nationally, the uninsured rate is 10 percent.

Virginia: The worst ratio of minimum wage to what is needed to sustain a family of any state (26 percent). The state also has no mandatory paid sick leave or guarantee for paid time off for a pregnancy and child birth.

West Virginia: Perhaps saddest of all, West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation (48.3 per 100,000 population—far more than double the national rate of 19.2 per 100,000.)

It’s worth noting that even Louisiana’s high murder rate is still less than one-fourth West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate.

Apples and oranges? Yes, of course.

But as I wrote in an earlier post, I love our people, our food, our music and our culture.

I’m still stayin’.

 

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When Kimberly Gail Womack was found dead in the bedroom of her Jarreau residence in Pointe Coupee Parish, her daughter Kathryn Simpson assumed there would be a thorough investigation into her death.

Womack, had died little more than a month shy of her 49th birthday of “blunt force trauma to head by assault,” according to the official death certificate. She suffered “left sided (sic) subdural hematoma (brain hemorrhaging generally associated with traumatic brain injury) because of a blow or blows to the head, and “multiple fractured ribs.

Her death was assigned to the parish coroner and Simpson had every reason to believe authorities would devote their energy to find her mother’s killer.

That was on Aug. 1, 2008, and more than 11 years later, no one has been charged with the killing and authorities have attempted to deflect Simpson’s inquiries into her mother’s case, saying (a) that she died from a fall and (b) her lifestyle was the primary contributing factor in her death.

Eighteenth Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton has even implied to Simpson that she “will never know” the full story of Womack’s death.

Those words now seem prophetic since after more than 11 years, the case appears no closer to resolution than ever.

Kim Womack’s “lifestyle” kept resonating with Simpson, who was aware her mother was involved with a West Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy.

The only problem was, unbeknownst to Simpson, the deputy, WBR Sheriff’s deputy was married. It’s not known if Womack was aware that inconvenient fact.

When the deputy, whom Simpson says she had known all her life, was a no-show for her mother’s memorial, “I got suspicious.”

Clayton refused to provide the investigative report to Simpson. “He told me he would let me see the information but he could not let it get out because of the media got hold of it, it could ruin the deputy’s life and he wasn’t going to do that,” Simpson said.

She said she then went to the office of the deputy’s wife and “slapped my mom’s picture down in front of his wife. I asked if she knew the woman in the picture.” She said she told the woman that her mother was having an affair with her husband and my mom “has now turned up dead.”

Womack had accompanied the deputy to a training session in Lake Charles about three weeks before her death, Simpson said.

She said the man’s wife told her she would present her husband with what Simpson had given her and that the two women would talk the following day.

“I called her the next day and she wasn’t ugly, but she said she couldn’t talk to me anymore,” Simpson said.

“The deputy went to Tony Clayton’s office and threw a fit the next day,” she said. “And that’s the last I ever heard of it (the investigation).”

Ty Chaney, chief investigator for the Pointe Coupee Parish Coroner’s Office, did write a two-paragraph letter dated Jan. 28, 2020 that he attached to the six-page autopsy report in which he stipulated that “This death was a result of a left side Subdural Hematoma from Blunt Force trauma to head.

“This is still a pending homicide investigation with Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Office.” The autopsy report added that she suffered “multiple bruises and abrasions on the upper and lower extremities as well as the midfrontal region of the face.”

The problem with any investigation at this point is that Womack’s body was cremated by Rabenhorst Funeral Home of Baton Rouge on Aug. 4, 2008, just three days after her death.

Louisiana R.S. 13:5719 says “…If, after the necessary investigation, the coroner is satisfied that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death, he shall issue a permit for cremation.”

An autopsy was completed but the coroner’s report made it plain that there were “suspicious circumstances. By cremating the body, any evidence that might have been overlooked was gone forever.

When prosecutors and law enforcement investigators are less diligent about solving crimes that are not sufficiently high-profile or because victims lack name recognition, social status or proper connections, or when prosecutors just go for the low-hanging fruit (read: easy cases), then justice is not being served on an equal and impartial basis.

Far from it. In fact, it smacks of either laziness or favoritism.

Clayton earlier this week formally announced his candidacy to succeed his boss, DA Ricky Ward who is retiring. This story likely will invoke howls of a political hatchet job. In an election year, that would be an expected reaction for a political candidate under fire. The truth is, however, that I know little about Tony Clayton and have no axe to grind with him. Nor do I know of any other potential candidate for the DA’s post in the three-parish 18th JDC.

The only dog I have in this hunt is contempt for any public official who appears to be shirking his duty to the people he or she serves or who is otherwise giving less than his/her best. And after 11 years of inaction on the Kim Womack case, it would appear that someone has gone to sleep on the job in the 18th JDC.

The alternative would seem to be that someone is indeed being protected.

 

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