Tangipahoa Parish deputies fumbled for keys while woman was hanging at the jail, lawsuit claims

The family of a woman who died after she was found hanging in the Tangipahoa Parish Prison in April, is at odds with the
sheriff over what happened.

Peggy Simoneaux's family filed a lawsuit claiming correctional officers spent nearly 20 minutes fumbling for the key to a
holding cell where she was hanging by her prison-issue pants.

Officers could not access Peggy Simoneaux's jail cell because a regional power outage rendered the cell's electronic locks
inoperable and the prison lacked a working generator, the lawsuit claims.
But in a lengthy statement to The Advocate, Sheriff Daniel Edwards said deputies accessed the cell within a minute or two
of realizing that she was dying by suicide. Edwards said Simoneaux denied having any desire to harm herself during a
medical intake minutes earlier, and staff performed CPR and called an ambulance as soon as they discovered her.

The lawsuit was filed July 30 by Simoneaux's family in Tangipahoa Parish Court. It seeks damages for denial of medical
treatment, wrongful death and negligence on the part of Edwards, Tangipahoa Parish Government, Deputy Stephen Easley
and Columbia Casualty Insurance.

Parish President Robby Miller called the incident a "a terrible tragedy" and said he is sorry for the family.  Miller said the
parish prison had generators at the time of Peggy Simoneaux's death but he would not comment on their condition, due to
the pending litigation.

Attempts to reach Easley were unsuccessful.

Text messages obtained by The Advocate through a public records request filed after the woman's death indicate Edwards
was frantically looking for a generator during the afternoon of the outage.

"Do you have a 100 kw triple phase generator on a trailer? My jail is without power and I don't know when it will be
restored, and our generator did not kick in. Otherwise, we will have to move 600 inmates," Edwards wrote in a text to a
contact shown in the screen shot of the message as "Sheriff Joe."

The lawsuit claims the sheriff violated a statutory duty to maintain two independent sources of power. The Entergy power
outage that affected some 8,000 customers in Tangipahoa and St. Helena Parishes, due to a transformer fire, according to
news reports.

"The sheriff knew or should have known that if the generator failed during a power failure, death or injury could result,"
the lawsuit says.

Peggy Simoneaux, 59, was arrested April 25 at her home in Bedico, after an argument with her husband, Ronald
Simoneaux. The husband was also arrested.

According to dispatch records provided by the family in June, deputies arrived in Bedico at 1:07 p.m. Within three hours,
Peggy Simoneaux was at the hospital. She would be on life support for five days until she died April 30.

The sheriff and a woman who answered the phone at the Tangipahoa Parish Coroner's Office said Peggy Simoneaux died
of asphyxia by hanging and brain death.

The woman at the coroner's office, who would not provide her name, said the coroner did not conduct an autopsy, because
the woman did not die inside the prison.

The sheriff and the family provide different versions for what they say happened in the short period from Peggy
Simoneaux's arrest to her death.

According to the lawsuit, Peggy Simoneaux took a Xanax, an anti-anxiety pill, before she left the house and was weak
when she arrived at the jail. The lawsuit claims Peggy Simoneaux collapsed on the floor while at the jail and was taken to a
cell with no medical attention.

They said the woman's family was told that Peggy Simoneaux was placed in a holding cell alone and issued a pair of pants.

Citing information provided to the family, the lawsuit claims deputies knew Peggy Simoneaux was attempting suicide
behind the locked door. Deputies searched for nearly 20 minutes for a manual key, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit says "much of the video" from the day of Peggy Simoneaux's hanging was "negligently/intentionally destroyed."

The lawsuit says the family was not informed that Peggy Simoneaux was at a local hospital until the next day.

The family has maintained that Peggy Simoneaux was not suicidal prior to her brief incarceration. The lawsuit claims
Easley, the arresting deputy, made disparaging comments that caused her such humiliation as to want to end her life.