Miss-Lou residents in Angola shakeup

Published 12:01 am Sunday, March 17, 2019

By Staff and Wire Reports

BATON ROUGE (TNS) — Seven employees at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — including four people from the Miss-Lou — have resigned from their corrections’ posts after an investigation found evidence they engaged in inappropriate relationships with inmates and, in some cases, participated in schemes to smuggle contraband into the prison.

Among the suspects are Miss-Lou residents Precious Fitzgerald, 25, of Natchez; Alexis McGraw, 35, of Clayton; Myron Cage, 21, of Ferriday; and Sarah Veals, 62, of Woodville.

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Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick said in a news release Friday that all seven are expected to be arrested. The West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office had already arrested four on Friday, and the other three were expected to be arrested soon. They all resigned in the past week, Pastorick said.

The employees and accusations against them:

*Precious Fitzgerald, 25, of Natchez, is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. She has been as a corrections officer since October 2017, and has not yet been arrested.

*Sarah Veals, 62, of Woodville, is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. She has not yet been arrested. She was a corrections officer since January 2018.

*Alexis McGraw, 35, of Clayton, is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. Deputies booked McGraw with felony malfeasance in office. She had been employed at Angola as a corrections officer since November 2016.

*Myron Cage, 21, of Ferriday, is accused of conspiring with inmates and their relatives to smuggle contraband into the prison. Deputies booked Cage with felony malfeasance in office. He had been a corrections officer since November 2018.

*Denise Prevot, 45, of Mansura, is accused of having sex and an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Deputies booked Prevot with felony malfeasance, sexual misconduct prohibited. She had been employed at Angola as a corrections officer since June 2017.

*Deidra Whittaker, 47, of St. Francisville, is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. Deputies booked Whittaker with felony malfeasance in office. She had been employed at the prison as a corrections officer since July.

*Toni Williams, 48, of St. Francisville, is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. Williams, who worked as a nurse at the state prison since July 2017, has not yet been arrested.

The six correctional officers all held the rank of sergeant. Pastorick also noted that the inmates involved are accused of violating prison rules and have been placed in administrative segregation, a highly restrictive detention setting, pending the outcome of the investigation.

He described the investigation as part of the department’s “aggressive efforts against contraband smuggling and inappropriate behavior” at Angola.

Under the federal government’s Prison Rape Elimination Act, sex between a guard and inmate is considered rape, even if both parties say they consent. But Louisiana state law includes a specific provision that defines sex between Department of Corrections officials and people in their custody as malfeasance in office, for which Prevot was booked into jail on this week.

The law specifically states that “sexual conduct (is) prohibited with persons in the custody and supervision of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.” It carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.

This statute is completely separate from Louisiana laws governing rape, which carry harsher sentences.

However, lawmakers passed a new law last legislative session that explicitly states how a person is incapable of giving consent when “the person is under arrest or otherwise in the actual custody of a police officer or other law enforcement official.” Correctional officers in Louisiana are considered law enforcement agents.

Louisiana Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the new law was intended to protect those under arrest. But he thinks it’s still relevant in cases of sexual acts in prison with corrections officers.

“I think that logic still holds with prisoners and prison guards as well,” Morrell said. “If you’re in there, there is a discrepancy between power and choice. … Either way you’ve got someone in a position of power and someone in a compromising position.”

But he said with the clear definition of consent on the books, he hopes all prosecutors would consider rape charges for guards accused of any sexual contact with inmates.

“I don’t know all of the facts of that case and that ultimate decision falls upon a district attorney,” Morrell said, when asked about the recent Angola arrest. “(Such an officer) is definitely eligible under the law I passed with rape, he absolutely could be charged.”

West Feliciana District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla, whose jurisdiction includes Angola, agreed with Morrell. After looking at the new statute on consent, he said he will consider rape charges for some of these cases, in addition to the malfeasance in office charges. But he noted that deciding which charges are best will come down to the evidence and facts of the case.

D’Aquilla said relationships between guards and inmates has been an ongoing issue at Angola for years, which he said are exacerbated by low salaries for correctional officers, high turnover and staffing shortages.

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed in 2003 and dictates the process for prisons to investigate and report instances of sex among inmates or between inmates and prison employees. States can lose some of their federal prison grant funding if they don’t adhere to the guidelines.

The most recent data collected and reported by the Bureau of Justice statistics estimates that shows that about 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates surveyed in 2011 and 2012 reported having experienced some type of sexual victimization. About half of the victims reported assaults perpetrated by prison staff.

These arrests come the same week that a high-ranking corrections officer at Angola, Maj. Christopher James, was arrested in Mississippi by the FBI after he was indicted on conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud — federal charges that stem from James’ other job at the Wilkinson county Sheriff’s Department in Mississippi. His indictment, which was first reported by WBRZ, says that James wrote a false police report in 2017 that an ATV had been stolen, which allowed his acquaintance to file for insurance funds on the ATV, though it actually remained on their property.

James was arrested Wednesday, and Pastorick said he was placed on paid administrative leave by the Louisiana Department of Corrections. Pastorick noted James’ arrest has nothing to do with his work at Angola.