Let’s talk about this story for a minute or two. It’s Daily Iberian reporter Dwayne Fatheree’s story of mayhem in the jailhouse and it would not be known if not for his dogged reporting and the Daily Iberian’s daily pledge to watchdog journalism. It was followed by a wave of more bad news for the Sheriff and his embattled department, including a federal indictment against the parish’s top law man.
The story revolves around the guilty pleas of several local sheriff’s deputies who beat inmates in the Iberia Parish Jail. This is how bad it was: They sought out the only place without recording equipment – the jail chapel – and turned it into a torture chamber.
Very little of which would be known, at least as early as it was known, if not for Dwayne’s connecting some important dots.
“We had long heard that the local sheriff’s office was under investigation by the feds but no one was talking and we couldn’t confirm,” Daily Iberian Managing Editor Jeff Zeringue wrote in an email to me. “Tips that something was coming to a head were coming in, but confirmation was impossible.” …
Dwayne answered the challenge by getting his butt off his seat and going down to the local courthouse. He dug up local lawsuits with dates that corresponded to the federal whistleblower claim. Among the important facts he learned in that cross reference was that, while the limited Department of Justice information referenced only low-level deputies, the local lawsuits said Sheriff Louis Ackal himself knew of and encouraged these beatings.
The first is that this is the reason newspapers are so important. As a society, we give people guns and badges. Someone’s got to make sure these guys don’t go rogue. Nothing we do is more important than serving as a watchdog over law enforcement.
Second, this story began with no-comment from officials. Lesser reporters simply rewrite the press release from the State Attorney and call it a day. Real reporters seek to make connections and tell truth to power. Dwayne Fatheree is the latter kind.
Wick Communications and the people of Iberia Parish are lucky he is.