CAMPAIGN NEWS: PRESS COVERAGE
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FROM: Times Picayune
inmate dies after altercation: Guard put on leave; FBI, state investigate
By Paul Purpura
Friday May 02, 2003
A 17-year-old inmate at a state juvenile correctional center in Bridge City died Thursday after an altercation with a guard, triggering investigations by the FBI, State Police and Jefferson Parish homicide detectives, officials said.
Emmanuel Narcisse of Harvey, who turned 17 on April 7, had been at the Bridge City Correction Center for Youth at 3225 River Road for about a month, said his mother, Janet Goins of Harvey. On advice from her attorney, she would not say why her son was incarcerated.
Goins said she learned about the incident Thursday about 8 a.m. from a relative, who told her to go to West Jefferson Medical Center. Narcisse was unconscious when he arrived by ambulance accompanied by one of the center's guards, she said, adding that no one from the center or state officially told her what happened to her son.
Goins said she saw her son as he was being taken from the ambulance into the hospital. "He was bleeding from the head," she said. "He had blood on his face. . . . He looked like he was beaten to me."
An autopsy is scheduled for today, but until it is complete the death will be listed as unclassified, said Col. Robert Garner of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, adding that he was waiting for homicide detectives to provide more details about the case.
"Depending on the results of the autopsy, we'll go from there," Garner said.
About 7:15 a.m. Narcisse was involved in "an altercation" with a security officer outside the correctional facility's infirmary, said Richard Stalder, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, in a written statement.
Trey Boudreaux, the department's undersecretary, said only Narcisse and the guard were involved. He declined to say what caused the altercation, citing the investigation.
It happened during the routine morning "pill call," when inmates go to the infirmary to get their medication, he said. He would not say whether Narcisse was taking medication.
Stalder said the center called for an ambulance after Narcisse was injured. Narcisse died at the hospital at 8:26 a.m., Stalder said. The guard, who was not identified, was placed on administrative leave.
Federal agents are investigating whether there were civil rights violations, FBI Special Agent Sheila Thorne said.
"The FBI is looking into the facts surrounding the circumstances of his death," Thorne said. "This is due to a potential federal violation, if in fact his civil rights were violated."
Stalder said State Police also are investigating the death and that the federal Department of Justice has been notified about it.
System under fire
The center, one of four in the state, can house up to 180 juveniles. It was not immediately known how many inmates are there. The center's warden, John Anderson, referred questions to Stalder's statement.
David Utter, director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a watchdog group based in New Orleans that is monitoring youth prison conditions, described the four state-run juvenile facilities as "dangerous places."
"These kids are subjected to violence on a daily basis, and it's been only by the grace of God that other kids have not died," Utter said. "This should be a wake-up call."
Word of Narcisse's death reached the state Senate in Baton Rouge. Sens. Chris Ullo, D-Marrero, and Donald Cravins, D-Arnaudville, took the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, saying the teenager's death illustrates the need to reform Louisiana's juvenile justice system. "I'm very, very concerned about these detention facilities," Ullo said.
The death "points to the fact that the system begs to be reformed," Cravins said after he got off the floor. "We need people who are well-trained and are prepared to handle kids with as little violence as can be reasonably had."
Cravins and other lawmakers are pushing legislation that would establish a framework to rehabilitate young offenders in community-based programs, instead of locking them up in juvenile prison.
Proponents of the legislation also are arguing that the state needs to close one of the juvenile prisons, most likely the Tallulah prison in northeast Louisiana, using the operation's financing to pay for the new programs.
Utter, a proponent of the legislation, said it should have been done long ago instead of handling the juvenile justice system like the adult correctional system. "That's what could have prevented this tragedy," he said of the legislation.
Narcisse looked forward to attending barber school when he got out of the correctional center and promised to straighten out his life, Goins said. "He was looking forward to coming home," she said.
Goins said she hopes Bridge City officials will contact her about the incident.
"We're still waiting to hear," Goins said. "We have no details at all."
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Laura Maggi contributed to this report. Paul Purpura can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3791.
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