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Family 'destroyed' by killing of Tangipahoa Parish jail inmate

2-8-2017 Louisiana:

A niece of a Tangipahoa Parish jail inmate who died after being attacked by 11 other detainees said Wednesday (Feb. 8) her family has been "destroyed" by his killing. She questioned why her uncle, a sex offender, was placed in the lockup's general population instead of an isolation unit.

Karly Varnado of Hammond said she and other relatives wanted to see the faces of those responsible for killing Tommy Joe Smith, 40, of Independence. But they were sickened when the Sheriff's Office released photos of the suspects, she said.

"They were kids," Varnado said. "He got murdered by 11 inmates who were way younger than him.

"Our family is absolutely destroyed."

Authorities said 11 inmates, ages 18 to 38, and one juvenile younger than 17 have been booked in an attack that other inmates described to investigators as a "shark feeding frenzy." The assault occurred shortly after Smith was booked Jan. 30 into the jail in Amite.

Smith was booked into the jail on a probation violation charge and escorted the dormitory. The Sheriff's Office said the "extremely brutal and very quick" attack erupted after lights out for the night. Officers responding to a disturbance found one of Smith's attackers trying to do CPR on his lifeless body, authorities said.

Varnado said her uncle was on probation for a sex crime and should have been placed, for his own safety, with other sex offenders rather than in the general prison population. She thinks he was attacked because inmates learned he was a sex offender. "He should have never been put in that dorm," she said.

Smith was arrested because he had a Facebook page in violation of his probation, Varnado said. Because he had a sex crime conviction, he was not allowed to have a Facebook page, Varnado said. He had one anyway but was not active on the page, she said.

Varnado said someone tipped off Smith's probation officer, which led to his arrest, she said.

The group assault was described by the Sheriff's Office as "unprovoked and heinous." Eleven inmates have been booked with second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. Two of them also were charged with robbery for stealing Smith's shoes while he was being attacked, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The juvenile, who was in jail on an unrelated homicide charge, was booked with being a principal to second-degree murder, authorities said. A Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said Wednesday the juvenile was being held in the parish jail and in a dorm with adult inmates, instead of a juvenile detention center, because he is to be tried in court as an adult.

The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions regarding the jail's policy for housing sex offenders.

Varnado said a funeral home advised relatives not to have an open casket for Smith because of the condition of his body. Funeral home representatives said it was "the worst body they have ever had to work on," she said.

Funeral arrangements are pending. "We still have not seen his body," Varnado said.

Smith was the father of a daughter, 16, and a son, 2, Varnado said.

"We're distraught," she said. "His daughter was his whole world. His son now has to grow up without even knowing his dad." ..Source.. by Robert Rhoden


12 inmates arrested in connection with Tangipahoa jail death

AMITE, La. (WGNO) – Twelve inmates at the Tangipahoa Parish Jail have been arrested in connection with the brutal beating death of inmate Tommy Smith.

According to the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, 40-year-old Smith was booked into the jail about 11 p.m. Jan. 30 for a probation violation and placed in a dorm with 21 other inmates.

Investigators said Smith tried to take a bunk on the second floor, but was told by other inmates that he wasn’t welcome there.

Witnesses said Smith was compliant and non-confrontational, grabbing his mat and going back downstairs.

According to 40 interviews done by detectives, Smith was walking to a deputy to request another dorm when he was struck from behind by another inmate.

As Smith turned around to defend himself, he was brutally attacked my multiple offenders.

The vicious attack, which happened after lights out, was described by other inmates as a “shark feeding frenzy.”

The sheriff’s office said the attack was extremely brutal and very quick.

When the deputy observed the attack, jail staff responded within minutes.

They found one of Smith’s attackers trying to give CPR on Smith’s lifeless body.

One of the 12 inmates arrested for Smith’s death is a juvenile. The other 11 are facing charges of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. Two of the 11 inmates are additionally charged with second-degree robbery for stealing Smith’s shoes while he was being attacked.

The juvenile, who is currently being held on unrelated homicide charges, was additionally charged with principal to second-degree murder.

“News of this unprovoked and heinous attack is extremely troubling,” Sheriff Daniel Edwards said. “We strive to provide safety to all those in Tangipahoa Parish, including those incarcerated within the Tangipahoa Parish Jail. Through an investigative account of this incident, it has been discovered all protocols relating to a response to such an event were preformed expeditiously. Unfortunately, due to the number of individuals involved in the altercation, along with the incident occurring within a secured environment, our victim was limited with an escape. This type of environment provides many limitations when taking into account the safety of staff, emergency medical responders, as well as the inmates themselves.”

The following inmates are charged with Smith’s death:

Herman Bagent, 20
Brent Collins, 30
Lionel Brister, 22
Randall Holmes, 27
James Milton, 23
Eric Newman, 18
William Patterson, 22
Tyquan Davis, 22
Antwon Seymore, 19
Ronald Faulkner, 38
Travis Robertson, 28
One juvenile

..Source.. by Heather Miller



'Pillow fight' jail death



Family and a Tangipahoa Parish Jail inmate are accusing the jail's staff of negligence of action that, they believe, resulted in the death of inmate Tommy Joe Smith.

Smith, 40, of Independence, was arrested by Probation and Parole officers on Monday for allegedly violating his parole, according to jail booking records. He was booked about 8:07 p.m. Monday and was released the following morning at 7:35 a.m. as "deceased," records say.



In the few hours he was in the jail, Smith died from injuries in a "disturbance between offenders," according to the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office in a statement released Tuesday. The cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head, family said.

Bridget Varnado, Smith's sister, was told Smith had gotten into a fight with multiple inmates over a "pillow and blanket." She said her brother was without deputy aid for about 25 minutes before they arrived.

"My brother laid there suffering, dying until he died on that disgusting floor of that place," she said during a phone interview Wednesday.

Smith was convicted of a sexual battery charge and had been on probation for one year at the time of his death, according to Varnado. She said Smith had allegedly gotten approval for a Facebook account from a previous parole officer.

"The new probation officer comes along and says, 'Hey, you've got to be arrested for having this Facebook,'" she said. "It's not right."

Ken Pastorick, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Corrections, said Smith, as a condition of his parole, had to sign a contract saying he was not allowed to participate in social media or have contact with children because he was a registered sex offender.



Pastorick said Smith violated both of those conditions by being active on Facebook and on a dating website as well as being photo- and video-documented in the presence of a child or children.

"Doesn't mean he's doing anything," Pastorick said of the photo and video documentation. "It might be family member, might have been a relative, but he's not supposed to have contact with a kid."

Other than the sexual battery charge, Smith was not formally convicted of any other charges, according to the 21st Judicial District Attorney's Office on Thursday.

Letter from inmate

The Daily Star on Thursday received a hand-written letter from an alleged inmate at the jail named "Michael B." The writer claims to have been at the jail for seven months. The letter and envelope is dated Tuesday, Jan. 31. The return address is the jail's post office box.

In the letter, the writer accused "90 percent" of the deputies of being untrained or not caring, sleeping in the pods and other complaints.

He said the pod guard was either "asleep or just did not care" because it took 10 to 15 minutes for guards to arrive at the scene and another five to 10 minutes for medical staff to respond.

"This jail needs looked into and its management needs changed. A man should not be dying in here while he is fighting charges for any reason," the inmate wrote. "Please help us. Pray for the lost soul taken last night."

The jail



Jail administrator Capt. Stuart Murphy said he was unable to provide information on the case because it is still an on-going investigation.

"I can tell you with full confidence that we did respond and we did render aid, CPR with nurses on the scene," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "We respond, we de-escalate, we remove the person in danger, render aid and then isolate those offenders that are posing a problem. And all of these things occurred, as always, even with this incident."

Murphy said the 35-year-old jail is built on an "indirect supervision model." The jail is divided into wings and each wing consists of eight dorms that house 16-24 inmates depending on the area of the jail, he said.

In the center of the wing is a "control pod" that is staffed by one guard at all times. This guard is responsible for monitoring the dorms but cannot leave the pod because the guard control the doors, he said.

In the event of a problem, the pod guard notifies central control, an area that overlooks the entire jail, and informs the deputies there about the issue, the location of the problem and what is needed to respond.

Deputies who are available respond immediately, Murphy said.

In the event of an incident involving multiple inmates, they make sure to have enough manpower for the safety of the guards and to prevent overpowering by inmates.

"We are going to make sure to have enough manpower to handle the situation," he said. "There's power in numbers, and we do our very best to be cognizant to stay on top of that and be smart in an area that is problematic."

Murphy said he cannot recall another homicide incident at the jail during his employment there. He said deaths have happened at the jail as a result of illness or old age.

"All we can do is investigate and find whoever is responsible," Sheriff Daniel Edwards said Thursday.

Murphy said investigators have been working the case non-stop since the incident occurred and "arrests are imminent."

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