NEW ORLEANS — Two men who were jailed for more than a year before they pleaded guilty and were sentenced in New Orleans to time served should have been freed immediately, but were instead held for five more months by authorities who ignored their families’ complaints, a federal lawsuit alleges.

“There’s no greater deprivation that any of us could conceive of than being locked up without any charges against you. That’s what happened to these two guys,” attorney Katie Schwartzmann said Thursday. “They were eligible for release. Instead, they lost five months of their lives — five months with their kids, their parents, their families.”

Their federal lawsuit in Baton Rouge names nine officials, including the Louisiana prisons chief, two sheriffs, the federal overseer of jails in Orleans Parish, and the warden of the River Bend Detention Center in East Carroll Parish, which gets paid for each inmate from the understaffed Orleans Parish jail.

The lawsuit says Jessie Crittindon, 30, and Leon Burse, 44, should have been released last August. Unable to make bond, Crittindon had been jailed for more than two years, and Burse had been jailed for more than a year. Crittindon finally pleaded guilty on Aug. 2 to a charge of aggravated burglary, and Burse on Aug. 8, to attempted drug possession. Both should have been freed after being given credit for the time they served awaiting trial, the lawsuit says.

Instead, they were returned to River Bend, a road trip of more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) from New Orleans, rejoining hundreds of men held there because Orleans Parish lacks the trained deputies it needs to safely care for its inmates.

“They both had promised their kids they would be home for Christmas,” Schwartzmann said. “They were supposed to be home. And they missed Christmas with their families.”

Burse was released Jan. 11 and Crittindon got out on Jan. 13 after the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans got involved.

East Carroll Parish Sheriff Wydette Williams said his office’s lawyers are reviewing the suit. Blake Arcuri, an attorney for the office of Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, said they “will vigorously defend this matter.” The office of Louisiana Secretary of Corrections James LeBlanc did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“It’s very frustrating,” Schwartzmann said. “These guys were in New Orleans, they were sentenced in New Orleans and Orleans Parish could have just sent them out here. Instead, it sent them practically to Arkansas, where they proceeded to sit for more than five months.”

Author photo
JANET McCONNAUGHEY
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.