A Georgia state jury awarded $50,000 to a woman for false arrest and imprisonment by Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation company. The award was the outcome in the first trial of more than a dozen lawsuits filed against the company.
Kathleen Hucks was sentenced to two years of misdemeanor probation in April 2006. In 2008, her sister paid off the $3,256 Hucks owed the court. Sentinel, however, kept Hucks under its supervision because she had not completed a risk-reduction class or shown proof of drug and alcohol treatment.
It was not until 2012 that Hucks was finally released from probation, but only after she was jailed after Sentinel obtained an arrest warrant because she had failed to pay accumulated fees of nearly $300.
Hucks was repeatedly hospitalized between 2006 and 2012 for seizures and a heart problem. Upon her arrest, her husband took her medication to the jail but it was not accepted. Three days later she had a seizure. “She could have died,” her husband testified.
For the next three weeks, Hucks sat in jail awaiting a hearing. Within minutes of appearing before the court, she was ordered released because her sentence had expired in 2008 – four years earlier.
At trial, Jack Long, one of Hucks’ attorneys, argued that Sentinel was only concerned about getting paid, not helping or rehabilitating offenders. “It’s all about money,” he said. It was not until Hucks failed to pay her supervision fees that Sentinel obtained a warrant for her arrest. “Being poor is not a crime,” Long noted.
The evidence showed Hucks was administered her first drug test in August 2008 and tested positive for marijuana, a violation of her probation. Yet an arrest warrant was not taken out until November 2008, when she did not pay her $39 monthly fee. A Sentinel employee testified it was merely a coincidence that Hucks was arrested when she failed to pay her fees.
In all, Hucks was jailed four times due to probation violations. Two of those arrests were after her sentence expired in 2008. When her husband asked in 2012 what it would take to get his wife released from supervision, Sentinel officials told him to pay the balance she owed.
During closing statements, Hucks’ attorneys argued that Sentinel acted only to generate profit, and should be held accountable. “This is not about money,” said co-counsel Titus Nichols. “This is about justice and accountability.” However, he added, “Money is the only thing Sentinel understands.”
Following a five-day trial in February 2016, the jury took two hours to return a verdict against Sentinel, awarding Hucks $50,000 in damages plus $125,000 in attorneys’ fees. The jury did not award punitive damages. See: Hucks v. Sentinel Offender Services, Richmond County Superior Court (GA), Case No. 2012RCCV00587.
Additional sources: Augusta Chronicle, www.abajournal.com
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