Inmate convicted in deaths of 2 La. deputies released on parole
Derrick Smith was released even though corrections officials acknowledged that early in his detention, he made threats to LEOs and aligned himself with "sovereign citizens"
By Della Hasselle
NEW ORLEANS — A man linked to the 2012 slayings of two St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff's deputies was released from prison last week on "good time parole" after serving less than half of his original sentence, according to an official with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Derrick Smith's release came even though corrections officials acknowledged that early in his detention, he made threats to law enforcement officials and aligned himself with a loose anti-government group known as "sovereign citizens."
Smith was one of six people initially charged in connection with the shootout in a LaPlace mobile home park that was the deadliest assault on local law enforcement in years. Deputies Jason Triche and Brandon Nielsen were killed, and two other deputies, Michael Boyington and Jason Triche, were left severely injured.
Smith, who was convicted of being an accessory to murder, was released from the Tensas Parish Detention Facility to supervised probation on Saturday after spending nearly five years in custody.
He qualified for early release because of the state's "good time" law, which allows inmates to earn credit against their jail time by taking self-help classes and exhibiting good behavior, according to Ken Pastorick, a spokesman for the state corrections department.
Because of the good behavior, he was released in spite of the fact that corrections department officials described him as an "avowed sovereign citizen." The FBI has classified some sovereign citizens as "extremists" and "domestic terrorists."
Pastorick said Smith had left threatening letters for law enforcement officials in a jail cell when he was being held in St. John the Baptist Parish, before he was transferred to a state facility.
Pastorick also said Smith's release was strictly a function of the way Louisiana laws calculate early release for prisoners who exhibit good behavior.
"That's all based on the law," Pastorick said, "and we follow the law here strictly."
Ultimately, Smith served 45 percent of his sentence, which included credit for time served after his arrest but before he was sentenced, Pastorick said.
Daniell Nielsen Jenkins, the widow of Brandon Nielsen, told the St. John newspaper L'Observateur that she was shocked when she heard Smith had been released.
“It came completely out of the blue,” she told L'Observateur. “What I don’t understand is, how can you release this guy when you know that he has made threats against law enforcement?"
Unlike a prison release that a stems from a parole board decision, releases based on good time do not require that victims' families be notified, unless they registered for notification.
Smith was arrested on Aug. 12, 2012, and originally charged with being a principal to attempted first-degree murder as well as possession of a firearm.
In 2013, he pleaded guilty to two charges: being an accessory after the fact to attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to five years on the accessory charge and 12 years for the possession, with the sentences to run concurrently.
Smith will be on probation until July 29, 2025, Pastorick said. He has a 9 p.m. curfew every day and is not supposed to leave the state. He is also required to wear an ankle monitor and has been instructed to seek gainful employment.
Smith's brother, Brian Smith, and a co-defendant, Kyle Joekel, face potential death sentences for their alleged roles in the 2012 shootout.
Brian Smith and Joekel were indicted in 2012 on first-degree murder and attempted murder charges.
Smith's father, Terry Smith, is also still awaiting trial after being charged with attempted first-degree murder in the shootings. He was sentenced to life in prison last year in connection with sexual abuse of his stepdaughter.
Terry Smith’s wife, Chanel Skains, and Brian Smith’s girlfriend, Britney Keith, also pleaded guilty as accessories.
Another witness, Teniecha Bright, was released from custody when authorities decided she had gotten caught in the fray after hitching a ride home with the Smiths.
The two slain deputies were both husbands and fathers and were well-respected members of the community, according to witnesses who testified in court proceedings related to the case.
The wounded deputies were left with permanent disabilities.
©2017 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.