In this episode of Rattling the Bars, Eddie Conway interviews Jeanine McNeal about her fifteen year old nephew Jaquin Thomas and his fatal experience being incarcerated in an adult prison
Eddie: I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars. In April, a New Orleans sheriff was arrested for malfeasance that resulted in the death of Jaquin Thomas, a 15-year-old held in an adult prison. Joining me to talk about this case is his aunt, Jeanine McNeal. Jeanine, welcome and thanks for joining me. Jeanine: Thank you for having me. Eddie: When your nephew got arrested in July last year and he was put in the juvenile jail holding place, what happened after that and how did he end up in an adult jail, and how did he end up dead? Jeanine: What happened with Jaquin was very unfortunate and very sad for the family. Jaquin was arrested on a murder charge, along with his uncle. At that point he was taken to the juvenile justice system and, after a couple of days, they had a hearing for Jaquin, which the family attended. Upon him having the hearing, they found probable cause to charge him. At that time, they immediately, the judge saw fit to send Jaquin over immediately to Orleans Parish Prison with adults. At that point, Jaquin sat there without a bond or without a hearing. He was confused. He didn’t know what to do. He was very scared. We were very upset, didn’t know what to do or what the proper procedure was. I would go and visit Jaquin every week. Upon visiting Jaquin, he was scared. He expressed that several times. On one of my visits, Jaquin had been beaten almost unrecognizable. The family was not notified of this beating, or any of them. It’s just been a pretty rough road. We later found out, recently, that everything was caught on tape. Actually, they told me that when they knocked on the door at 2 o’clock in the morning and said that Jaquin had taken his life. It’s just been, it’s been a nightmare. Upon Jaquin taking his life, from what I understand, everything was captured on tape. It’s just been a nightmare. Eddie: One of the reports that I read, and I kind of looked at this and it said somewhere that initially they had given him a half-a-million-dollar bail. Then I saw later it was reduced to $300,000, but I also saw in that particular report that a number of prominent citizens, a mayor from one town, religious leaders, preachers, etc., all of them appealed to get Thomas moved out of that jail and put back into juvenile jail. Did that happen? Jeanine: Yes, it did. We had been trying to have Jaquin sent back over to juvenile. He had an amazing attorney over there, [Ariel Test 00:04:08], and she fought and fought and fought for Jaquin but, apparently, [inaudible 00:04:13]’s office saw that that wasn’t going to happen. They said they didn’t have enough beds over there and it was said to one of the attorneys that was representing Jaquin at that time, they didn’t want to show favoritism by sending him back over to juvenile. We were just told a lot of different things that some of the things just didn’t make sense. Eddie: I understand that there’s been video tapes that show that his cell was left open and he was attacked by several people without the supervision of guards, he wasn’t being observed, but that was being recorded on a camera. Jeanine: Yes. Eddie: Is that something they reported to you? Jeanine: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. It was told to me by somebody that was running investigations that Jacquin had taken a beating, a 45-minute beating, inside of his cell, leaving us to wonder how did the other inmates get inside of Jaquin’s cell. Was that allowed? How did something like that happen? Eddie: I guess the other thing is, apparently, with the arrest of the officer that was supposed to be supervising the tier, it was discovered that even though she was supposed to be making rounds every 15 minutes, she was absent from the tier and did not make any rounds for at least an hour and 45 minutes. Is that true? Jeanine: Correct, that’s what I was informed, yes. Eddie: I’m curious now. One of the autopsy reports, I guess, indicated that not only was he found hanging with a mattress cover, but that his mouth and throat was covered with an Ace bandage. Is – Jeanine: Absolutely, yes. He had an Ace band on his arm. He had been in an altercation inside the prison and he was allowed to have an Ace band, absolutely. Eddie: Was that around his mouth when they discovered him? Some reports indicate that it was around his mouth and they took it off of him. Do you – Jeanine: Correct. Eddie: Is that correct? Jeanine: Yes, it was. Eddie: What actually is the status now of this case? Jeanine: I’m not at liberty to say that right now – Eddie: Okay. Jeanine: But it’s an open case. Eddie: Okay. Jeanine: It’s open. It is open. Eddie: As I was looking at this, and I’m in Maryland, so Gary Maynard himself was in Maryland. He was the Secretary of Public Safety here. I see that they had assigned him, a federal court order had put that jail under a consent decree and assigned him to clean that particular jail up. In fact, I think he came on board somewhere around October the 3rd, and this incident actually occurred on October the 17th, so he had been there for a couple of weeks. I understand there’s been other suicides in this particular jail? Jeanine: Apparent suicides, yes. Eddie: I’m not sure exactly what’s going on. I know the officer’s been arrested and I understand the jail has made a commitment to move juveniles out, but it’s my understanding that they’re still holding juveniles in this adult jail. Jeanine: I’m not sure, but there was a meeting today with the Justice Department and it was an open meeting. They presented a lot of different things that, changes that are coming and, hopefully, one of the things that they did say is that juveniles would not be housed over at OPP. We’re waiting to see if this if going to happen, if the changes will take place. I’m praying and hoping that what happened with Jaquin would not happen to another juvenile, and that they still have rights, and that they will be safe if they’re put in the system, that they will be safe and protected. Jaquin wasn’t. He wasn’t safe. He wasn’t protected. Many times I would go there, he was hungry. We would put money on his books. Apparently, they were taking his, whatever he purchased, they were taking it. We felt like he wasn’t eating. On the day that I saw him, which was on a Saturday, and I started seeing him on a Saturday because what he stated was that he felt safer throughout the week because all of counselors and teachers and everybody weren’t present on the weekends. That’s when he feared the most, on the weekend, so I started going on a Saturday. The last Saturday that I saw Jaquin, I remember it so well because he was eating a hot dog and he was stuffing it in his mouth as if he had not eaten in a very long time. It made me so sad. I asked him, I said, “Jaquin, why are you eating like that? Put your head up and look at me. Why are you eating like that?” He stated, “I have been waiting for this all day.” That was his reply. That was the last time I saw him, that Saturday. I got a knock on the door that Monday night that he had taken his life. I was in disbelief. I was in total disbelief until they told me that everything was video-taped, that they could see him preparing to do this. It was just disturbing. It was very disturbing. Eddie: Thank you for joining me. I hope this at least helps some other parents not go through this. Jeanine: Absolutely. Absolutely. We definitely would like to see change and we’re going to see change, because we’re not going to stop until we see a change with the system. It’s not just one person. It’s not just a guard. It’s the entire system. It needs to be repaired. Eddie: Thank you. Jeanine: You’re very welcome. Eddie: Thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.