Author: Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness Investigator
Published: 6:57 PM CDT March 28, 2019
Updated: 11:24 PM CDT March 28, 2019
NEW ORLEANS — The woman in charge of hiring new deputies at the troubled Orleans Justice Center jail was fired recently, the second human resources director to leave under a cloud in less than a year.
Now, one of the deputies who worked under Trina Bowie is the subject of criminal investigation on top of an administrative probe. The sheriff’s office is looking into complaints that Deputy Steven Odom had sex with a woman he approved to be hired as a deputy, court records show.
Odom gave a background clearance to the applicant, despite the fact that she was not qualified to become a deputy due to four prior arrests, according to search warrant applications filed in court.
“Deputy Odom used his personal cellular telephone to show a credible co-worker employee of the OPSO a recorded video of Deputy Odom engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman Deputy Odom advised was the applicant,” the warrant application states.
The court documents reveal that Odom is being investigated for malfeasance.
“Obviously there’s a criminal investigation involving the deputy that was responsible for investigating the applicants,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a non-profit watchdog group. “It’s inappropriate. It’s unprofessional. But he has bigger concerns than just professional issues. He’s under criminal investigation.”
The sheriff’s office has been aided in the investigation by the New Orleans Police Department’s digital forensic unit, the documents show. The search warrants cover Odom’s telephones, home computers and a digital camera.
The probe was sparked around the same time as Odom’s then-boss, Bowie, was fired from her job as the sheriff’s human resources director. Bowie had been on the job since May 2018 after replacing Johnette Staes, who was fired after WWL-TV exposed that she had been hired despite having prior arrests for writing bad checks.
“This is a setback,” Goyeneche said. “It’s disturbing. But the sheriff’s office isn’t running from it. They’re investigating the deputy that may have crossed the line. And they’ve already removed the HR director.”
In a statement, the sheriff’s office said it has a strict sexual harassment policy and that all employees receive training on the policy. The sheriff confirmed Odom’s ongoing suspension.
“Deputy Steven Odom is suspended pending an administrative hearing. The Sheriff Office has no additional comment on personnel matters of active employees,” the statement reads.
Despite what Sheriff Marlin Gusman previously described as a “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment, a joint investigation by WWL-TV and The New Orleans Advocate previously chronicled numerous complaints from deputies about an environment of harassment among deputies. Two deputies have filed sexual harassment lawsuits since December.
Among the cases reviewed by the station was a complaint against Odom that led to a five-day suspension. In that February 2018 complaint, Odom was accused by a female deputy of making sexually suggestive comments and playing inappropriate music inside his office.
Goyeneche said the current scandal with Bowie and Odom could grow into an administrative nightmare, forcing the sheriff to review the applications of dozens of deputies under their watch.
The sheriff’s office has struggled to hire and retain deputies, a problem made more acute because it is operating under a federal consent decree to improve dangerous conditions and substandard medical care for inmates.
“This is more than just a mistake,” Goyeneche said. “This is something that is a setback toward the sheriff’s office reaching compliance because deputies that were hired and are filling roles right now may have to be let go.”
Odom’s attorney, Stavros Panagoulopoulos, said he expects his client to be cleared.
“It’s our contention that once the investigation is concluded, the allegations will be proven baseless,” he said.