Testimony begins in civil trial in Sentinel Offender Services case

Kathleen Hucks, a disabled woman expected to pay a third of her monthly income to Sentinel Offender Services, was like a lot of probationers who said they had a hard time paying the fines and fees, Hucks’ former probation officer testified Tuesday.


Sentinel had no policy for addressing what to do about poor people on misdemeanor probation, Christina Kapral testified. What she did in Hucks’ case was obtain warrants for her arrest in 2007, 2009 and 2010 – warrants cleared when Hucks’ family came up with money.
Six years after Hucks was sentenced to 24 months’ probation, she was arrested a final time on a probation violation warrant and incarcerated nearly three weeks.

Hucks has sued Sentinel, alleging false arrest and false imprisonment.

Her attorney Jack Long told the jury in his opening statement Tuesday in Richmond County Superior Court that it was always about the money. The threat and use of jail was used to shake down Hucks and continue to do so long after her sentence expired, he said.

But Sentinel’s attorney Thomas Cathey told the jury that it was Hucks’ fault she was sent to jail because she failed to do what a judge ordered – pay fines and fees, report to Sentinel, complete a risk reduction class and undergo alcohol counseling.

Hucks was sentenced to her probation in April 2006, when she pleaded guilty in Columbia County Superior Court to driving under the influence, driving on a revoked license and possession of marijuana.

While it is technically true Sentinel didn’t have a valid contract with Co­lumbia County, Sentinel officers acted in good faith as probation officers for misdemeanor probation cases there, Cathey said.

When Hucks was arrested and jailed on a probation violation warrant in 2008, her sister paid the court fines, surcharges and restitution for attorney services in full, according to Sentinel documents.

But Hucks was still required to report to probation every month and pay the $39 fee every month. She hadn’t completed the risk-reduction class, which would cost about $280, and she hadn’t taken part in alcohol counseling.

If the monthly fee wasn’t paid, it was common practice to move up a probationer’s monthly appointment, as she did in Hucks’ case, her probation officer testified. If a probationer hadn’t paid by end of the month a warrant could be issued, as was done in Hucks’ case in October 2009.

Hucks’ payment plan created by a Sentinel employee in 2006 allowed for her to pay everything she owed to the court within 24 months. It also meant Sentinel would collect $83 a month, more than double its monthly fee.

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TOPICS PAGE: Private probation