By Mike Perlstein | WWL-TV | August 30, 2022
NEW ORLEANS — The beginning of the end of Kyshun Webster’s tenure as the director of city’s juvenile jail was marked by accusations that he was rarely at the lockup, heavy-handed leadership when he was there, and numerous instances of violence, including the escape of four juveniles, who immediately carjacked a woman. The day after that escape, the city drafted a letter stating that he was fired.
But that termination letter written by CAO Gilbert Montano on behalf of Mayor LaToya Cantrell was never delivered. Instead, Webster continued to preside over staff departures and firings that left the jail with less than half of its staff. About two months later, he took a leave of absence, and was paid more than $21,000 of his $143,000 salary while on leave.
Webster finally resigned on April 29. Three days later, he appeared at the side of newly elected Sheriff Susan Hutson.
Starting with Hutson’s inauguration and for about two weeks into her administration, Webster was seen at the jail, even though his position or duties was never announced. When WWL-TV asked about his role, a spokesman said, “He volunteered his expertise during her transition.”
Records obtained Tuesday by WWL-TV now show Webster volunteer efforts were very lucrative.
Through his company “The Webster Group,” Webster was paid $36,750 for less than five weeks of work as Hutson “Acting Chief of Staff,” the records show.
Webster billed the sheriff for 209 hours at a rate of $175 dollars an hour, a rate significantly higher than the sheriff herself. Not only that, his pay for that one month of work is about $7,000 higher than the $29,727 annual salary of front-line deputies at the jail.
“This is troubling. And I’d like to know how this evolved,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a watchdog group. “The city of New Orleans, as you documented, had issued a dismissal letter to him based on his mismanagement of the JJIC. So for him to be brought in there is baffling.”
The 209 hours billed by Webster reflect about 52 hours a week during the one month he was working as a consultant for the sheriff. At the same time, his Kenner insurance company, Compassion Society Benefits remained in operation, although the number of hours devoted to that business is unknown. While Webster was the director of JJIC, the city granted him a special accommodation to work up to five hours a week at the insurance company, despite the juvenile lockup being in almost constant state of crisis due to staff shortages and a surge in juvenile crime.
Goyeneche said Hutson should explain her hiring of Webster despite the problems at JJIC and very public baggage exposed by WWL-TV.
“In the spirit of transparency, I think she owes an explanation to the public,” Goyeneche added.
By all accounts, Sheriff Hutson has gotten off to a rocky start since her trail-blazing inauguration on May 2 as Louisiana’s first African-American female sheriff. In her first four months, Hutson has been rocked by an inmate death during a fight, a suicide, at least five stabbings, and the inmate take-over of a tier for nearly three days before state prison officials came in to restore order.
Inmate advocate Norris Henderson was a strong supporter of Hutson’s campaign and a key member of her transition team. He said team members – dozens of experts with a variety of criminal justice backgrounds – worked for free for several months ahead of the sheriff taking over the jail. He said he never saw Webster take part in that work.
“He didn’t attend any of the meetings that we were chairing as a part of that. So if he attended some of the other ones, I don’t have a clue,” Henderson said.
When we told Henderson about Webster getting paid, he offered this: “Well, that’s a lesson learned. That’s a lesson learned. Sometimes we make bad investments.”
WWL-TV received a statement from the sheriff Tuesday defending Webster’s stint as a highly paid consultant at the jail.
“Dr. Webster is a valued partner in the fight for criminal justice reform,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “He provided his expertise during my transition and I am very thankful for his help during that time.”
Hutson also stated that she would be naming a permanent chief of staff in the coming days.
Webster has not responded to several requests for comment.