The New York Times
December 19, 1999

54 Inmates Leave as Jail Standoff Continues


          ST. MARTINVILLE, La. -- All 54 remaining prisoners were
          emptied Saturday from a south Louisiana jail where five Cuban
          inmates and another from the Bahamas held seven captives in a cramped
          office with no bathroom.

          Authorities cut a hole through an interior wall so the 54 men wouldn't
          have to pass the warden's office where the hostage-takers would have
          seen them leave the St. Martin Parish Jail, Sheriff Charles Fuselier said.

          "We didn't want any activity taking place that would cause concern and
          heighten anxiety there," Fuselier said. 'We made a door."

          After their departure, the 54 inmates were bused to other jails.

          Warden Todd Louvierre and female guard Jolie Sonnier were in good
          condition Saturday morning even though they had been shackled to
          chairs since Monday night, said Charles Mathews, agent in charge of the
          FBI's New Orleans office. Five female inmates also being held captive
          also were believed to be in good condition.

          "All appear to be doing as well as can be expected for being confined for
          35 hours in the small confines of the warden's office," Mathews said.

          All 13 were holed up for a second day in the warden's office at the St.
          Martin Parish jail, after the hostage-takers left the lockup's larger
          command post and lost their control of most of the facility, sitting in the
          downtown area of the city of 7,000 people.

          The uprising began Monday when inmates being held for deportation by
          the Immigration and Naturalization Service armed themselves with
          homemade knives and took the warden and four guards hostage while
          being escorted to an exercise area.

          One guard was released after about six hours. A second was released
          Thursday night.

          Two Cuban hostage-takers surrendered late Thursday, and the others
          somehow lost control of the jail command post, with its switches for the
          facility's electric locks. It was not clear how the group ended up in the
          adjacent warden's office.

          The inmates holding the hostages were demanding to be released and
          sent to another country.

          Although they have completed their U.S. sentences, the Cubans are
          being held indefinitely in a state of legal limbo. The U.S. government
          won't release them because it considers them subject to deportation. But
          there is no agreement between the United States and Cuba to have them
          sent back. Officials did not say why the Bahamian is still being held.

          Late Saturday morning, a woman who identified herself as the mother of
          hostage-taker Roberto Villar-Gana arrived in St. Martinville and met with

          "I don't want anything to happen to my son and I want everything to end
          peacefully," Mercedes Villar told NBC before entering a court building
          being used as a command center by negotiators.

          Among those holding the hostages were two convicted killers -- Lazaro
          Elisante Orta, who has been in INS custody since 1997, and Anthony
          Deveaux, in INS custody since 1998.

          Since the rebellion began, about 100 of the jail's 170 other inmates have
          been moved to other jails. About 20 more inmates were led Saturday out
          the back door of the jail. Reporters saw about 12 of the inmates being
          taken away in a van. The rest were inside a bus. Authorities did not
          immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

          The jail takeover also triggered a hunger strike about 90 miles away by
          174 foreigners awaiting deportation at the Avoyelles Parish Jail in
          Marksville. Inmates stopped eating food and taking medications on
          Wednesday, sheriff's Maj. Harry Normand said.

          Guards found one homemade knife and additional guards were put on
          duty to make sure the hunger strike doesn't turn into a rebellion, Norman

          Cuban inmates at the Marksville jail took a deputy hostage seven years
          ago and demanded to be sent back to Cuba, but guards quickly rescued
          the hostage.

          "Because we don't negotiate, we put an end to it within 30 minutes,"
          Normand said.