Some of the 5,000 warrants for probation violations sought by Sentinel Offender Services might be invalid because proper procedures weren’t followed, according to a manager for the private probation company.
Gina Childs, the manager of the Sentinel office in Augusta, testified in a June 28 deposition that company employees haven’t always sworn under oath before a notary public that the allegations set forth in seeking warrants are true. The law requires any arrest warrant to be sworn out before a notary or judicial official to be valid.
A restraining order is preventing any arrest of about 5,000 people with outstanding probation violation warrants signed by Richmond County State Court judges.
According to Childs’ testimony, Sentinel has not determined which of those warrants might be invalid.
Plaintiffs attorneys John B. Long, John R. Long and John C. Bell Jr. have filed 13 civil lawsuits in Richmond and Columbia Superior Courts challenging the constitutionality of the state law that allows local governments to contract with private, for-profit companies to provide probation services for misdemeanor offenders.
The suits also contend that Sentinel’s practices have led to violations of civil rights.
Superior Court Daniel J. Craig issued the temporary restraining order April 9 after plaintiffs’ attorneys presented examples of residents being arrested and jailed without bond based on probation violation warrants that contained false allegations, and on
warrants that had been dormant for years.
Attorneys for the Richmond County State Court judges and the sheriff, who were allowed to join in the civil lawsuits, contend the restraining order is interfering with their duties.
Craig has been pushing lawyers on all sides to finish their work in the case so he can rule on several motions that should move the cases forward and deal with the restraining order.
Before that can happen, he must have a full record of the case, which isn’t complete unless all sides agree to submit the deposition of Sentinel’s office manager. Sentinel insisted that Childs has the right to review the deposition before it is submitted and that she has 30 days to do so.
All sides have submitted their briefs, and on Friday the attorneys argued their points.
Craig told them that he would promptly issue rulings as soon as the record is complete.
On behalf of Sheriff Richard Roundtree, attorney Aimee Sanders asked Craig to lift the restraining order.
Roundtree has been put on notice that some of the warrants might be invalid, Craig said, and warned that the sheriff and his
deputies could be personally liable for any unlawful arrest.