A whistleblower who described alleged abuses inside the jail run by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman may lose his job and face criminal prosecution.
Bryan Collins, a sheriff’s deputy, is under investigation by Gusman’s office for bringing a cellphone inside Orleans Parish Prison, where he used it to snap a photo of the bloody aftermath of a stabbing inside a cell.
Cellphones are prohibited at the jail for both inmates and deputies, though testimony in the court case that has resulted in a landmark consent decree aimed at reforming conditions there suggested the rule is routinely flouted.
For now, Collins, one of dozens of individuals who helped lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center build a case that conditions in the jail violate the U.S. Constitution, remains in limbo. His attorney, Eric Hessler, said Collins was suspended from his job last week, but the Sheriff’s Office disputes that. So far, no charges have been filed against him.
The case was first reported late Thursday by The Times-Picayune. Hessler said Collins would not be available for an interview.
While Gusman’s office has not concluded its investigation, Hessler said the sheriff has hinted at the possibility of charging Collins with introducing contraband into the jail, a criminal offense.
Hessler called the accusation hypocritical.
“I don’t think he’s committed any crime whatsoever,” Hessler said. “It’s just ridiculous. The reason some deputies carry cellphones in there is because there’s no other reliable means of communication.”
He added that both state and federal laws aimed at shielding whistleblowers in the workplace would come to bear should Collins face charges.
In a written response, Gusman’s office disagreed.
“Our understanding is that whistleblower laws are not intended to protect criminal activity,” the statement said. “Based on this understanding, we believe our investigation of Deputy Collins for illegal conduct will not violate any federal laws.”
Gusman’s office said it has been in touch with the District Attorney’s Office, which would review whatever evidence emerges from the investigation and decide whether to bring charges.
The sheriff also disputed Collins’ suggestion, in an interview with The Times-Picayune, that Gusman inaccurately downplayed the stabbing incident that Collins documented with his phone and conducted only a half-hearted investigation of it. At the time of the incident, Gusman said the victim sustained only “superficial” cuts.
The sheriff’s statement noted that the alleged attacker, an 18-year-old named Edward Dean who was already facing murder charges, was rearrested, pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Moreover, the Sheriff’s Office said, there is evidence that Collins let Dean out of his cell before he committed the alleged stabbing, although it did not say what that evidence is or provide any further details.
Hessler did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that allegation.
Katie Schwartzmann, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, declined to discuss Collins’ role in exposing conditions at the jail, citing a policy against disclosing sources. But in a written statement she said, “We are always grateful for the bravery of anyone willing to come forward and speak about the horrendous conditions at the jail.”
“We support anyone who has information in coming forward,” she continued, “It is critically important that people be able to do so without fear of intimidation or retaliation.”