Former St. John Water Works employees convicted in amoeba scandal
Two former St. John the Baptist Parish Water Works employees were convicted Tuesday for covering up their failure to properly collect and record water samples from testing sites where a brain-eating amoeba was found in the water system, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell announced.
Kevin Branch, 55, of LaPlace and Danielle Roussel, 43, of Paulina, each pleaded guilty in 40th Judicial District Court to false swearing.
Branch was convicted on two counts and Roussel was convicted on one count. An October Grand Jury indicted the two for falsifying information on the water testing logs they were required to maintain.
“These individuals ignored their responsibility to ensure the safety of the parish’s drinking water supply, and they are being held criminally culpable for their disregard for the public’s welfare,” Caldwell said.
“In addition, as a result of this investigation and in consultation with state and federal public health regulatory agencies, the Parish has made and continues to make significant personnel and policy changes in order to have a much safer and much more stable water supply.”
Branch and Roussel were each sentenced to one year in parish prison, with that sentence suspended, and six months of probation.
Branch was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service. Roussel was ordered to perform 40 hours of community service.
Each was ordered to pay a $400 fine.
Branch and Roussel were required to collect water samples from at least two locations, the Lions Water Treatment Plant in Reserve and an additional site in Mt. Airy, to ensure that the water contained the appropriate amount of residual chlorine to disinfect the water and prevent growth of the amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri.
Branch and Roussel were required by law to record their findings on a daily log to be filed with the Department of Health and Hospitals.
However, a Louisiana State Police investigation found that the two did not collect all the samples to which they had attested.
It was found that data from Global Positioning Systems (GPS) permanently attached to the parish vehicles assigned to Branch and Roussel showed that they were nowhere near the testing sites on numerous days where the employees alleged to have tested water samples.
“I appreciate the Louisiana State Police, the Department of Health and Hospitals and the St. John the Baptist Parish Government for their efforts in this investigation,” Caldwell said. “The Parish was extremely cooperative in sharing information from its internal investigation and officials there are committed to providing their residents with quality drinking water.”