Louisiana Correctional Officer Pleads Guilty to Lying to the FBI About Death of a Woman in Custody

Debra Becnel, a former correctional officer, pleaded guilty to making false statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, in connection with the federal investigation into the death of Nimali Henry, an inmate at the St. Bernard Parish Prison. Ms. Henry died in custody on April 1, 2014, after she failed to receive medical treatment for her serious medical needs during her ten-day incarceration.

In pleading guilty, defendant Becnel admitted that Ms. Henry and other inmates told her, as well as other correctional officers, that Ms. Henry was ill, needed medical treatment, and might die if she did not get her medical treatment. Becnel further admitted that, when FBI agents questioned her about Ms. Henry’s death, she falsely stated that neither Henry nor the inmates talked to her about Ms. Henry’s medical needs.         

“When officers make false statements to federal authorities, they hamper the ability of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute civil rights violations,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to defend the civil rights of all citizens.”

“Debra Becnel lied to the FBI about what she knew about Nimali Henry’s death,” stated U.S. Attorney Peter G. Strasser for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  “The public must be able to trust that correctional officers are fulfilling their duties honestly.  Public officials who are not truthful during the course of federal investigations must face the consequences of their actions.”  

 “Debra Becnel deliberately deceived FBI agents during a civil rights investigation,” said Bryan A. Vorndran FBI New Orleans Field Office Special Agent in Charge. “Placed in a position of trust, law enforcement and correctional officers are held to a higher standard. The FBI New Orleans Field Office will continue to prioritize the investigation of federal Civil Rights violations and any other violations of federal law within our correctional facilities.”

Sentencing is scheduled for April 22, 2020, before the Honorable Ivan L.R. Lemelle. Becnel faces a maximum sentence of five years of imprisonment. 

In a related case, former Corporal Timothy Williams pleaded guilty on Sept. 18, 2018, to one count of Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, 18 U.S.C. § 242. In pleading guilty, Williams admitted that he willfully disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to Ms. Henry’s health and safety by failing to take reasonable measures to address her medical conditions. When Williams is sentenced, he faces a maximum penalty up to life imprisonment. 

This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted jointly by Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant United States Attorneys Chandra Menon and Tracey N. Knight of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.