Wednesday, January 23, 2008

No Justice For Fuselier

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2008 at 6:47 PM

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a third installment to the Oscar Fuselier story that originally ran in the Gambit this past September. In that first story, I described how Fuselier, a 58-year-old disabled war veteran was arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant from Jefferson Parish, placed in an un-air-conditioned jail cell in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) with five other inmates and more than a day later was beaten unconscious by another inmate. He never regained consciousness and died two weeks later. Richard Jackson, an 18 year-old armed robbery suspect, was charged with second-degree battery for assaulting Fuselier.

In October, I found out that Jackson had been given a ‘701 release’ from the Orleans District Attorney’s Office on the battery charge . A ‘701 release’ refers to a suspect being released from jail after 60 days if a DA’s office hasn’t formally accepted charges against them. Jackson was released of that charge, but remained in jail on the armed robbery charge and for violating his parole on a previous conviction. The DA’s office said this occurred because they never received any of the files on the case from Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office (OPSCO). A spokesperson for OPCSO, Renee Lapeyrolerie , denied the DA’s, saying, “…I don’t know what report they’re talking about.”

A little more than two weeks ago, I called the Orleans District Attorney’s Office to find out if they had ever received the Fuselier file from OPSCO. Dalton Savwoir, spokesperson for the DA’s office, said that they had and that the office was trying to decide what charges, “murder, manslaughter or assault” might be filed against Jackson. I wrote the article “Justice for Oscar Fuselier?” and I answered the headline with the sentence: “In death, Oscar Fuselier might finally see some justice.”

I was wrong.

Early yesterday afternoon, I heard that Jackson was being released from OPP. The armed robbery charge had been dropped, and since Jackson hadn’t been recharged with the assault, the only thing holding him was the parole violation. He has served six months in OPP for the violation, so he will be released sometime today.

I called Dalton Savwoir at the DA’s office and I first asked why the armed robbery charges were dropped. Savwoir replied “the victim didn’t want to testify in that case.” I’ll bet there’s more to that story. Then I inquired about Fuselier.

“They have refused the charges in the second degree battery,” Savwoir said. “Basically because there’s no victim now to bring the charges forth.”

But what about OPSCO’s investigation and Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s statement that the investigation was “pretty straightforward” and that “there wasn’t any dispute about it”? What about the four other cell mates — four eyewitnesses? All Savwoir could say was,“Well, obviously that hasn’t been resolved, because without a victim, or witnesses, we can’t press on with any charges.”

But what about pressing murder or manslaughter charges?

“In terms of any homicide charges, they said (DA’s screening office) there were never any charges brought to them for homicide,” Savwoir said.

I then called Daniel Fuselier, Oscar Fuselier’s son. I felt it was okay to make this call because Daniel had contacted me after the first article I wrote about his father to tell me that he appreciated what I had done in pursuing his father’s case. When I spoke to Daniel this time, he told me that his father had died at Canon Hospice, not at University Hospital as I had been informed and reported. Daniel then went on to tell me that the cause of death listed on his father’s death certificate was lung cancer. According to Daniel, there was no mention of trauma, brain injury or anything else related to the holding cell beating.

Daniel Fuselier did confirm what I had been told before that Fuselier never regained consciousness at University Hospital or Canon Hospice. So why wasn’t there anything in the death certificate about it?

I telephoned the Canon Hospice and spoke to an assistant administrator, Sue May. May couldn’t discuss Fuselier case because of federal laws regarding patient confidentiality, but she could speak in general terms regarding hospice patients. According to May, when a patient is transferred to Canon with a terminal diagnosis and the transferring physician has given that as “the primary terminal diagnosis” that’s what the hospice must use for the death certificate.

“That’s not our determination,” May explained. “It’s the physician’s who sent us the patient determination.”

For the same reason — federal laws regarding patient confidentiality — University Hospital wouldn’t discuss with me why the primary diagnosis, and ultimately the cause of death for Oscar Fuselier, was lung cancer. After discussing it with the hospital’s community relations representative, I relayed to Daniel Fuselier that he could request his father’s files from his stay at University Hospital.

Maybe the files will reveal why the jailhouse assault didn’t factor into Fuselier’s diagnosis and contribute to his death. At this point, Daniel Fuselier wants to discuss his legal options with an attorney before he goes any further. He does add this thought, however.

“I just want to get out of this city. I’m really sick and I’m really hurt.”

Regardless of whether or not the assault hastened Fuselier’s death, there is still an image that I can’t seem to get rid of and that is of Oscar Fuselier in the OPP holding cell. As Sheriff Gusman had told me during an interview, the holding cells aren’t designed for sleeping. So there is 58-year-old Oscar Fuselier, a disabled veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and lung cancer, and he is sweating in a cell for at least 24 hours, without air-conditioning and without a bed. There are five other men with him in that cell, and at least one of them is a violent offender.

There are many questions still to be answered regarding the Oscar Fuselier case, but the first one has to be: Why was Fuselier still in jail more than 28 hours after his arrest on a minor traffic attachment?

It’s unlikely Richard Jackson will be thinking about that today when he walks out of Orleans Parish Prison a free man.

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