- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A former police chief in the small Louisiana town of Mamou is going to prison and another awaits sentencing following a federal investigation into the illegal use of Tasers on inmates at the local jail.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that former Police Chief Gregory W. Dupuis was sentenced Tuesday to one year in prison by U.S. District Judge Richard T. Haik in Lafayette. Dupuis pleaded guilty in April.

Simultaneously, the Justice Department said Robert McGee, a 44-year-old former police officer who served under Dupuis before being elected police chief in 2014, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of violating an individual’s civil rights in 2010.

Federal prosecutors said in a news release that while Dupuis was police chief between 1994 and 1997 and again between 2004 and 2014 officers repeatedly used Taser guns “as a form of punishment” on inmates they considered unruly, even if they were only being verbally disruptive. Prosecutors said Tasers also were used on inmates who were calm.

“It’s an unfortunate and embarrassing thing,” said Mamou Mayor Ricky Fontenot.

Fontenot blamed Dupuis, who is 57, for permitting a practice of using Tasers against inmates by his officers.

“It was a way they had for discipline,” he said.

The mayor said the town council is expected to appoint an interim chief on Wednesday. He said the new chief will clean up the police department. “Someone needs to come in and set a standard,” Fontenot said.

Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Louisiana, said the misuse of Tasers “is a recurrent problem.”

“Mamou has been a problem for a long time,” Esman said. She added that the ACLU gets reports of Taser misuse repeatedly from many places in Louisiana.

Federal prosecutors in Washington and Lafayette did not immediately return messages seeking comment and more details.

In a statement, Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, said the former chiefs had “abused the trust given to them as law enforcement officers when they engaged in a pattern of repeatedly tasing compliant detainees.”

Prosecutors said the case against Dupuis was built in part on an incident April 25, 2010, when the chief used a Taser on an inmate who had been verbally disruptive. Dupuis ordered the inmate to put his hands on a wall and then fired the Taser at his back, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors said the inmate then fell to the ground in pain and injured his knee.

Prosecutors said McGee used a Taser against an inmate he was talking with on Aug. 6, 2010. Prosecutors said the inmate posed no threat. After being struck by the Taser, the inmate fell to the ground in pain, according to prosecutors.

McGee resigned as chief last week. He faces prison time and fines. A sentencing date has not been set.

The FBI and Louisiana State Police led the investigation into excessive use of force at the jail.

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