Ex-jailer admits smuggling cellphones

A former Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy pleaded guilty Wednesday to smuggling cellphones and marijuana to federal inmates in Orleans Parish Prison in 2008.

Tyrell Sutherland, 28, faces up to five years in federal prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 17 by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval.

The Sheriff’s Office in 2008 unearthed a scheme in which federal detainees at the jail’s Templeman V facility were offering bribes to deputies in exchange for contraband. The investigation apparently began after an inmate asked a jailer to deliver a package containing cellphone chargers to Sebastian Cuevas, an inmate known as “King Smuggler” who was awaiting trial at the time on firearms charges.

Cellphones, chargers, drugs and MP3 players were found in the facility, according to an FBI search warrant, and investigators determined a deputy was on the take.

Sutherland admitted to meeting a person, identified in court papers only as T.W., at a Wendy’s on North Causeway Boulevard and accepting $300 to deliver a package to an inmate that contained marijuana and a cellphone. The next week, the deputy accepted a similar package and $200 to deliver more marijuana into OPP.

The Sheriff’s Office organized a sting operation that ensnared Cuevas’ sister, girlfriend and a third person — individuals who were not identified in federal court documents. The women told investigators they had “previously engaged in smuggling contraband via a deputy,” court records say, and identified Sutherland in a photo lineup.

Sutherland, who was suspended after failing a voice stress analysis test and was later fired, was arrested in December 2008 on state counts of malfeasance in office and conspiring to introduce contraband into the jail.

“Sutherland’s criminal conduct jeopardized the safety of his fellow sheriff’s deputies and the inmates he was entrusted to protect,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. said in a statement. “We will not tolerate this type of misconduct that undermines public trust in our law enforcement community.”

Sutherland’s defense attorney did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

It’s not clear why so many years passed before Sutherland was finally prosecuted. A spokeswoman for Polite did not respond to an inquiry about the timing of the case.

Philip Stelly, a spokesman for Sheriff Marlin Gusman, said the Sheriff’s Office cooperated with federal authorities during the investigation.

“Contraband is an issue facing jails nationwide,” Stelly said in a statement after federal prosecutors charged Sutherland, “and the Sheriff’s Office is using every means at its disposal to detect and prevent contraband from entering the jail facilities under its control.”

The federal government pulled its inmates out of OPP in 2012, saying the jail was not fit to hold its pretrial detainees. The lockup’s notorious violence and dysfunction became the subject of a federal consent decree last year that requires an overhaul of jail policies and increased staffing.

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