Former correctional officers plead guilty to causing woman’s death in custody

“The FBI New Orleans Field Office, in coordination with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office, remain committed to protecting the rights of all Americans, to include those incarcerated.”

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Two more former Louisiana correctional officers recently pleaded guilty to federal charges involving the death of a young woman in custody. Currently, four former correctional officers have pleaded guilty to either violating the woman’s civil rights or participating in the subsequent cover-up attempt.

In March 2014, Nimali Henry, 19, was sent to jail on charges of simple battery, disturbing the peace, and unauthorized entry after getting into an altercation while trying to retrieve her four-month-old daughter from the child’s father. Suffering from thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP, a rare disorder that causes clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body, Henry required medication for the life-threatening condition.

Incarcerated at the St. Bernard Parish Prison in Chalmette, Louisiana, Henry repeatedly told the guards about her rare medical condition while requesting her medication. Instead of giving Henry any medical attention, the correctional officers locked her in an isolated cell where she died of a blood clot.

In December 2015, Captain Andre Dominick, Corporal Timothy Williams, Deputy Debra Becnel, and Deputy Lisa Vaccarella were indicted for willfully failing to provide Henry with necessary medical attention and making false statements to the FBI. In 2018, Dominick attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the torso after fellow colleagues began testifying against him during the trial.

In September 2018, former St. Bernard Parish correctional officer Timothy Williams pled guilty to violating Henry’s civil rights by intentionally depriving her of her medication. Williams faces a sentence of up to life in federal prison.

Earlier this month, Becnel pleaded guilty to making false statements in connection with the federal investigation into the death of Nimali Henry. She faces a maximum sentence of five years of imprisonment.

On Thursday, Dominick, who was acting as the medical officer during Henry’s incarceration, pleaded guilty to violating her civil rights by willfully depriving the young woman of her medication despite repeated warnings from a social worker and pleas from her family in the days before her death. He faces a sentence of up to life imprisonment.

Vaccarella, a former correctional deputy, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of misprision of a felony and one count of making false statements to the FBI. She faces up to eight years in federal prison.

“Officers such as Andre Dominick and Lisa Vaccarella have a responsibility to protect the civil rights of all in their custody,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to defend the civil rights of all citizens.”

“The protection for all of our citizen’s civil rights is an essential part of our constitutional rights,” stated U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “Violation of these entitlements, especially in this case by the correctional officers sworn to protect the rights of inmates, erodes public confidence in our correctional system. The public must be able to trust that correctional officers are fulfilling their duties honestly and are truthful during the course of federal investigations or face the consequences of their actions.”

“Captain Andre Dominick and Correctional Officer Lisa Vaccarella were responsible for the welfare of inmates at the St. Bernard Parish Prison. Because of the choices each defendant made, Nimali Henry failed to get the care and attention that she needed to address known medical conditions, leading to her death,” asserted Bryan Vorndran, FBI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge. “The FBI New Orleans Field Office, in coordination with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office, remain committed to protecting the rights of all Americans, to include those incarcerated.”

Vaccarella is currently scheduled to be sentenced on April 29. Dominick is scheduled to be sentenced on June 10.

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