Scapegoats. That's what the lawyers are calling the St. John Parish employees indicted in the amoeba investigation.
Kevin Branch and Danielle Roussel were indicted on two counts each of malfeasance in office and filing or maintaining false public records. The indictments stem from a state police investigation into inconsistencies in St. John Parish water records connected to the discovery of a deadly amoeba in the parish's water system.
As part of their job duties, Branch, 54, and Roussel, 43, were tasked with collecting water samples from at least two locations, including the Lions Water Treatment Plant in Reserve and an additional site in Mt. Airy, to ensure that the public water met specific quantities of residual chlorine as required by Louisiana law. The employees were to truthfully record those findings on a daily log, which was to be filed with the Department of Health and Hospitals each month. According to the indictment, through a Louisiana State Police investigation it was determined that GPS permanently attached to the parish vehicles assigned to Branch and Roussel showed that the two did not collect the samples that they attested to. The GPS data showed that on numerous days where the employees alleged to have tested water samples, they were not near the site of testing.
Lawyers of the employees indicted tell FOX 8 exclusively that there's much more to the chlorine problem here than the indictment refers to.
The lawyers of both Kevin Branch and Danielle Roussel send us this statement:
"This case evidences the most egregious form of politics: honest, hardworking parish employees at the lowest level of the totem pole have been scapegoated and blamed, because those sitting at the top of the totem pole failed to provide proper training and education on policies and procedures aimed at keeping the water supply of St. John the Baptist Parish safe for public use. Kevin Branch and Danielle Roussel work in St. John the Baptist Parish. Mr. Branch and Ms. Roussel were suspended from their jobs with the parish without pay, before being charged with any offense. The officials at the top of totem pole, in contrast, continue to work, continue to draw their paychecks, and continue to be able to provide for their families, while Mr. Branch and Ms. Roussel are deprived of these basic rights, despite not being found guilty of any wrongdoing.
Mr. Branch and Ms. Roussel are as invested in insuring the safety and well-being of St. John the Baptist Parish as any parish or state official. Mr. Branch and Ms. Roussel will vigorously defend against the charges that the State of Louisiana has lodged against them. Mr. Branch and Ms. Roussel trust that the judicial process will work to demonstrate their innocence and vindicate their good names and reputations with members of St. John the Baptist Parish community."
Parish President Natalie Robottom's responded to the indictments on Tuesday.
The statement refers to poor training which Natalie Robottom addressed. However, when asked if she was worried about the management oversight of the utilities department, she would only refer back to the indictment - which makes no reference to management other than the GPS system in place to track utilities workers' cars.
Natalie Robottom explained how the GPS system is used by management.
"Those provide alerts,” she explained. “They are not monitored every day. However, when there are concerns they are pulled up and addressed accordingly.”
"It's had a significant impact on our residents, our employees [and] our staff,” added Robottom. “This is a tragedy. However, it could have been worse. It could have resulted in the death or illness of our residents, and based on what has happened we are making changes, adding additional protective measures to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Robottom said changes are already in the process of being made. For example, the parish is looking to add more automatic flushers and provide more training for employees.
The chlorine burn to rid the parish of the amoeba is in week 6 of its 60 day required period.