A Louisiana sheriff routinely encouraged his narcotics squad to rough up black residents “to let them know it was our streets,” according to a former detective’s testimony.
Jason Comeaux, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to beating inmates and then lying about it, testified Tuesday in the conspiracy and civil rights trial of Sheriff Louis Ackal, reported The Advocate.
Comeaux and another former narcotics detective testified that he and other agents roamed the streets of Iberia Parish after shootings and other major crimes to prevent civil unrest.
“When people ran, we punished them for running,” testified Byron Lassalle, who also pleaded guilty in the case.
Narcotics agents viewed the community they served with disdain and were encouraged to treat them harshly, Comeaux testified.
“They were animals,” the former officer testified, “and they needed to be treated like animals.”
Comeaux testified that drunken off-duty narcotics agents were lightly punished for beating up two young black men for no reason — which other officers called “n****r knockin.'”
The sheriff was angry the officers had been caught — which required a report — and both former agents said the incident, which became legendary within the department, sent a clear message about violence.
“It taught me that I didn’t have to follow the rules, that is was okay to step out of line because I wouldn’t get in trouble for it,” Lassalle testified.
Prosecutors have alleged that Ackal not only directed and approved of abuse but was also present during some of the beatings he ordered.
Comeaux testified that the sheriff watched him and two other deputies beat an inmate 20 to 30 and forced him to stimulate oral sex in the jail chapel, out of the view of surveillance cameras, during a 2011 contraband sweep.
That inmate later filed a lawsuit over the abuse, and Comeaux said the sheriff’s office attorney encouraged him to lie and say the man was injured in a fight with another prisoner.
“F*ck that n****r — he got in a fight,” Ackal said after learning of the cover-up, the former agent testified.
The 73-year-old Ackal has been barred from carrying a gun since his indictment in March but refuses calls to step down.
The sheriff was caught on tape threatening to shoot a federal prosecutor between his “Jewish eyes,” according to investigators.
The case has strained racial tensions in the community, where black residents say they have long been victims of police brutality and misconduct.
“It’s always been a problem within Iberia Parish,” said activist Khadijah Rashad. “It’s gotten worse under Sheriff Ackal.”