BATON ROUGE, La. — A federal trial involving a man who was fatally shot while handcuffed has been delayed amid new allegations that a Louisiana sheriff used racial slurs and instructed deputies how to cover up “illegal actions” against arrested suspects.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna agreed Tuesday to postpone the trial involving a lawsuit filed by relatives of Victor White III. The 22-year-old man had his hands cuffed behind his back when he died in the rear of an Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office patrol car in March 2014.
In a court filing Monday, lawyers for White’s family said two former employees of the sheriff’s office recently contacted them with “highly critical and important information” about Sheriff Louis Ackal.
Hanna said Tuesday that he would delay the trial to give Ackal’s lawyer time to question the witnesses. The magistrate said in a court filing that their anticipated testimony is important and could unfairly undermine the family’s case if jurors don’t hear it.
Laurie Segura, who worked as Ackal’s administrative assistant, told the family’s attorneys that she heard the sheriff give coded instructions for writing reports to justify beatings of detainees. Segura also said Ackal referred to black people as “gorillas” and another racial slur, the lawyers said.
Fred Schroeder, a lawyer for Ackal and for a deputy who also is a defendant in the lawsuit, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Wednesday. Ackal didn’t immediately respond to a phone message left with his office, but Major Wendell Raborn said the sheriff’s office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The other new witness, former sheriff’s deputy Candace Rayburn, contacted White’s father on Jan. 24 and said she “knew of the practice of beating up detainees before they were brought in for booking,” the family’s attorneys wrote.
“She further stated she had heard officers talking about the Victor White III incident,” they added, without elaborating.
In November 2016, a federal jury acquitted Ackal of federal civil rights charges that accused him of ordering the beatings of prisoners and orchestrating a brazen cover-up. Ten deputies pleaded guilty in the case. Before trial, Justice Department prosecutors accused Ackal of making anti-Semitic threats that he apparently directed at one of the prosecutors assigned to the case.
Neither Segura nor Rayburn testified at Ackal’s 2016 trial.
The Justice Department and state prosecutors ruled out any criminal charges in White’s death. A parish coroner ruled in 2014 that the New Iberia man shot himself in the chest following his drug-related arrest by one of Ackal’s deputies.
A forensic pathologist concluded it was possible for the gunshot to be self-inflicted even though White’s hands were handcuffed behind his back, according to the local district attorney’s office.
Hanna, however, ruled in October that a jury for the civil case must decide whether White’s death was a suicide, accident or “at the hand of a sheriff’s deputy.” Hanna said the manner of White’s death hasn’t been “conclusively established.”
Shandell Marie Bradley, the mother of White’s daughter, sued the sheriff and Deputy Justin Ortis in 2015. Ortis had patted down White and found marijuana in a pants pocket but didn’t confiscate a gun before he handcuffed him.
Segura and Rayburn both sued Ackal over their employment at the sheriff’s office. Segura’s lawsuit accused one of Ackal’s top deputies of sexual harassment and claimed the sheriff retaliated against her for reporting the allegations. Rayburn sued the sheriff in 2016 over her firing, accusing Ackal of retaliating against her after she expressed support for Segura’s harassment complaint.