Judge refuses to let indicted sheriff have gun after threats

AP News
|
Posted: Jul 29, 2016 5:02 PM

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — A south Louisiana sheriff accused of making anti-Semitic threats can't carry a gun while awaiting trial on charges he directed officers to assault prisoners, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna said he can't "turn a blind eye" to statements like those that Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal allegedly made on tape.

Prosecutors said an "unsolicited informant" recently provided them with recordings of a conversation in which Ackal claimed he threatened to shoot a Justice Department prosecutor between his "Jewish eyes" after the prosecutor vowed to send him to prison.

Prosecutors said their conversation was cordial and Ackal mischaracterized it on the tape, but they were still concerned about it and they had learned of "additional threatening comments" that Ackal allegedly made. They didn't elaborate about those during the hearing, and none of Ackal's taped statements were played in court.

Ackal has been prohibited from possessing firearms since his March indictment. His attorney, John McLindon, argued that recent killings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas demonstrate he needs a gun to protect himself.

"Recently, there was a threat to ambush a deputy in New Iberia, which thankfully did not come true. However, the atmosphere in this country, especially in south Louisiana, makes this a very real possibility," McLindon wrote in a court filing a day after a lone gunman shot and killed three law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge on July 17.

The magistrate said there is a "viable possibility of a threat to (Ackal's) security," but he noted that defendants charged with felonies are barred from possessing guns before trial.

"I'm going to treat you just like anybody else," Hanna told the sheriff.

McLindon said he suggested to the sheriff that he stay in his office and avoid patrolling the parish while he awaits trial.

"He said that would be malfeasance if he didn't go out and do his job," McLindon told reporters.

McLindon said in a court filing that his client didn't know he was being taped when he made "some inappropriate remarks" among friends "in the privacy of his home" after the meeting with prosecutors.

McLindon called it "disingenuous" for prosecutors to publicly release Ackal's statements while also denying him the right to carry a gun for protection.

After Friday's hearing, McLindon said, "99.9 percent of the tapes were innocuous."

Prosecutors argued that Ackal's remarks were grounds for tightening the conditions of his pre-trial release. On Friday, the judge ordered Ackal to submit to pre-trial supervision, a new condition.

Ackal's trial is scheduled to start Oct. 31. His original indictment claims he directed officers to assault inmates in the parish jail's chapel, where no video surveillance cameras would record the April 2011 beatings.

Last month, Ackal was indicted on a new charge that he conspired in 2014 to assault a man who was accused of assaulting one of Ackal's relatives.

Nine former employees of the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office already have pleaded guilty to related charges.