A judge has signed a restraining order that temporarily prevents the private probation company Sentinel Offender Services from seeking the arrest of a Grovetown man who filed the latest lawsuit against Sentinel.
The order, signed Thursday by Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig, also requires Sentinel to report the number of outstanding probation violation arrest warrants against people whose misdemeanor probations sentences should have already expired.
Attorney John Long filed suit on behalf of William Stephen Carter, alleging Carter was wrongfully jailed over a weekend based on a bogus Sentinel warrant.
Carter was sentenced in Richmond County State Court to two years’ probation in 2009 for reckless driving and crossing the center line. Carter contends he paid off his $2,050 fine and followed all court-order probation conditions – including paying Sentinel $35 a month.
In 2011, a Sentinel employee obtained a probation violation warrant for Carter’s arrest.
The warrant sat unserved until a Columbia County sheriff’s deputy stopped Carter for speeding March 9, and he arrested Carter on the outstanding warrant. Carter had to pay $655 to get out of jail.
On March 11, a Sentinel employee told him he would be back on probation and making monthly $35 payments to the company until June 23, according to court records.
In response to Carter’s request for a restraining order, attorney James Ellington wrote that Carter’s case was invalid because he hasn’t argued his case first in Richmond County State Court. Carter’s request for the temporary restraining order was just a veiled attempt to force Sentinel to reveal the number of warrants pending, Ellington responded. And, he wrote, the lawsuit could cripple the entire misdemeanor probation system in Georgia.
In Carter’s lawsuit and in earlier lawsuits, Long has attacked the constitutionality of the state law that allows local governments to contract with private companies to provide misdemeanor probation services.
Sentinel’s defense team has taken the position that the private probation company always acts within its legal authority. Any probationer jailed is behind bars because of a judge’s order to suspend the sentence after warrants are obtained, according to Sentinel.
In February, the Georgia House of Representations began the process to change the state’s statutes governing private probation companies. The change would extend powers and protections specifically given to state government probation officers to private, for-profit companies. The bill will be waiting for the 2014 session.