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Augusta woman sues Sentinel Offender Services

Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 7:03 PM
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 8:09 AM
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A woman jailed this summer on an arrest warrant that accused her of violating the conditions of her probation – a sentence that ended four years earlier – has filed suit against a locally operated private probation company.



Kathleen M. Hucks filed the civil lawsuit in Richmond County Superior Court on Monday against Sentinel Offender Services and two of its probation officers. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and a repayment of probation fees that she contends she was illegally forced to pay Sentinel.

According to the lawsuit, Hucks pleaded guilty in Columbia County Superior Court to misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession, driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license. On April 19, 2006, she was sentenced to two years’ probation, fined $2,000, and ordered to pay restitution and monthly probation fees. Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. terminated Hucks’ probation in August 2008 after she paid the fines, fees and restitution, according to court records.

In September 2010, however, a Sentinel probation officer petitioned for a warrant for Hucks’ arrest, alleging she was in violation of several terms of probation, including failure to pay fees owed to Sentinel.

On Sept. 3, 2012, Hucks was walking her dogs near her Augusta home when a sheriff’s deputy stopped and asked her for identification. Based on the outstanding probation violation warrant, she was arrested and held in jail without bond, the lawsuit alleges.

She wasn’t released until Sept. 20, after her husband paid Sentinel $157, the lawsuit contends.

Hucks’ lawsuit alleges Sentinel and its employees gave a judge false information in order to get the warrant for her arrest. It also contends the private probation company was responsible for her illegal incarceration.

Hucks’ attorney in the suit, John Long, contends that Sentinel probation officers obtained a probation violation warrant after Hucks’ probation term ended and that the
warrant was obtained after Sentinel’s contract with Columbia County expired.

In a response to Long’s Open Records request, the county clerk wrote that she couldn’t find any contract between Columbia County and Sentinel after 2006.

Hucks’ case is the second lawsuit Long has filed against Sentinel. He challenged the constitutionality of courts contracting with for-profit private companies to provide probation services for people convicted of misdemeanor crimes.

In the first case, filed in 2010, Long was successful in getting his client, a mentally disabled veteran, released from jail. Hills McGee spent nearly two weeks behind bars before a judge ordered his release.

A lawsuit seeking class-action status for McGee and others, though, was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall, who found McGee no longer had standing to challenge the constitutionality of private probation. Long appealed.

This month, the attorneys in the case presented oral arguments to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision is pending.

Comments (30) Add comment
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Ruckus
467
Points
Ruckus 10/18/12 - 02:33 am
5
0
SMH

This is what our justice system has come to $$$$$

Augusta resident
1368
Points
Augusta resident 10/18/12 - 03:28 am
2
2
One Call That's All

One Call That's All

wildman
1222
Points
wildman 10/18/12 - 03:47 am
9
0
Wrong

I hope she gets enough to put Sentinel out of business. I have not had to do business with them but know a few that have and it's all about the money. The state should discontinue all contracts with them.

KSL
143815
Points
KSL 10/18/12 - 03:49 am
2
4
What took her husband to wait

What took her husband to wait so long to pay $157.00?

KSL
143815
Points
KSL 10/18/12 - 04:28 am
2
4
wildman

I hope she doesn't. She has an attorney now. Why didn't she get one, "back when?"

avidreader
3560
Points
avidreader 10/18/12 - 04:34 am
3
1
To KSL

Good question. The woman remained in jail over two weeks in September. Her husband couldn't come up with $157.? Maybe more jail and court costs were added on. It's possible.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/18/12 - 05:31 am
4
0
2 Weeks in jail

for the equivalent of a bad debt, I thought we abolished debtors prisons?

If all the facts are correct as stated it is false imprisonment, a violation of her rights, a violation of at least 3 State and Federal laws. There is no doubt she will soon see a check, if not, put the company out of business. Since it is likely an LLC they can only go after certain assets and the amounts invested by the owners.

In regard to the $157 owned - the article indicated NO Bond, so likely someone had to weed through red tape to resolve the IOU problem.

Note: The county may be on the hook for admin issues as well. Somewhere someone should have verified the warrants authenticity.

In regard to the constitutionality of courts contracting with for-profit private companies. We are dealing with over 30M arrested and in jails right now in the USA, with millions more arrests and convictions each year. The prisons are overcrowded with repeat, deemed safe to release offenders.

We could convert a average size state into a penal colony like the movie Escape from LA. But which state to pick?

I'd go with Arkansas because it is centrally located, and they are use to dealing with crooks.

Retired Army
17513
Points
Retired Army 10/18/12 - 05:29 am
1
1
If the information about the

If the information about the contract being non-existent is correct, I'm suprised that the county is not named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.

Although Sentinel is the originator of the false imprisonment, it could not have been accomplished without the county's help.

It is also unclear from the article weather the victim was incarcerated by Columbia or Richmond county.

trailblazer
9
Points
trailblazer 10/18/12 - 05:35 am
7
1
REPLY TO OPEN CURTAIN

We could convert a average size state into a penal colony like the movie Escape from LA. But which state to pick?

How about Washington DC, most of the crooks are already there.

Little Lamb
49038
Points
Little Lamb 10/18/12 - 06:46 am
4
3
Augusta

You are correct, RA. The way the story reads she was arrested in Augusta by Richmond County Sheriff Department. I plan to vote for Freddie Sanders for sheriff; but if Roundtree wins we will not have miscarriages of justice like this, because Roundtree is all about second chances. He will not have his deputies arrest people on minor charges like probation violation. Counseling sessions will be all it takes.

mooseye
272
Points
mooseye 10/18/12 - 07:16 am
7
1
Ridiculous

The comment about it being about the money is so true.
A $10 fine could generate hundreds of dollars in court costs and probation fees if you take the monthly payment plan. All this money goes to keep the government employees and private probation firms in a job.
If you are convicted of a crime, no matter how trivial you think it is, you have no leg to stand on. A complaint will usually get you the answer,"don't do the crime if you can't do the time (or pay the fine)".
Personally, I think it should be unconstitutional to use a private, for profit company to administer a court decision. The courts make enough mistakes themselves without including people who are not concerned with your best interest.
The (excuse) that we are arresting too many people to deal with is also ridiculous. Use some of the millions collected in court cost to build a bigger jail if you want to incarcerate people for every law broken. Use some to hire more probation officers and the court can also collect the probation fees.
One thing that chaps my posterior is the way the jailors think they are your owner while you are in (their) facility. You can be released by a judge and still sit in jail for hours, or days in some cases, until the jailors see fit and "have the time" to process you out. And don't dare to disrespect them or you may be denied your rights. When did disrespect become a crime? And a lot of the time, this happens to innocent people. Every one arrested is presumed innocent. Remember the part about being innocent until proven guilty? Not true in law enforcements eyes. You are at their mercy after any arrest.
I have a new catch phrase for them. Don't lock them up if you don't have the means to handle it.

shrimp for breakfast
5641
Points
shrimp for breakfast 10/18/12 - 07:31 am
4
4
Say what?

This is ridiculous. It sounds like there is a lack of communication for all concerned.No one is on the same page.
Also the husband not bailing out his wife when all he had to come up with was $157. I bet there are beer cans , empty potato chip bags and other snack garbage next to his Lazy Boy from the 2 weeks without his wife nagging him. Also I bet the TV is on ESPN.

Little Lamb
49038
Points
Little Lamb 10/18/12 - 07:32 am
6
0
Judge

You would think that the judge would have questioned the propriety of issuing an arrest warrant over an alleged $157 debt to Sentinel, especially knowing that fellow judge Jim Blanchard terminated the probation. It's hard for me to fathom how you can be arrested for probation violation once a judge has terminated your probation.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/18/12 - 07:39 am
4
0
Moose - I agree on some points

and disagree on others.

We have too many laws that lock up too many people up, that are not a threat to society.

But we still continue to lock up more despite the limited space to place them.

More prison space is not the real correct answer as I see it.
Because if the person is not a threat to society then House Arrest except for DOCUMENTED work, school and Medical issues. Plus weekly alcohol and drug testing and weekend community services. Serves and greater purpose. Family and eliminates the typical problem of goes in dumb and come out an educated criminal.

Using court appointed and controlled House Arrest jailers is ok by me. IF they follow the rules, do their jobs and are seriously held accountable for their mistakes and actions.

chris mercer
18
Points
chris mercer 10/18/12 - 08:02 am
4
1
If you`re gonna play.. You will def. pay..

They are a rip off.. If you owe 300.00 you will go see a probation officer once a month.. If you can only afford 50.00 a month,35.00 of this would go to Sentinel. Thats over 50% interest.. It would take 20 months to pay off the 300.00 dollars ..Sentinal would be collecting 700.00 on a 300.00 fine... SMH.. All I can say is "Stay out of Trouble"

Bulldog
1333
Points
Bulldog 10/18/12 - 08:53 am
5
0
Disgrace

This company is a disgrace! The system is a disgrace!
Major overhaul needed at the state level by our legislature...

JRC2024
10448
Points
JRC2024 10/18/12 - 09:20 am
5
0
I hope they nail their rears

I hope they nail their rears to the wall because I think this is a false arrest, not because I do not like Sentinal, I just do not like the arrogance of some of the enforcement officers. I have been to Sentinal to pay the fines for several people and it is a nasty stinking place and if you look around you would see why.The fee they are allowed to charge is outragous for the people that get arrested because most have nothing and it takes so so long to get the fine paid.

realitycheck09
312
Points
realitycheck09 10/18/12 - 09:39 am
5
0
Some of you are awful.

Those of you blaming the husband are the worst. First, maybe he didn't have the money - not everyone has $157 lying around. And, secondly, maybe Sentinel was holding her until a hearing could be had. The story doesn't say.

But, to blame her or her husband wholly misses the point that an innocent woman spent 17 days in jail because a greedy, pathetic, idiotic organization like Sentinel wrongfully took her liberty. It's nothing more than a government-sponsored kidnapping.

I hope none of you blaming her and her husband have to go through what she did. Pathetic.

mooseye
272
Points
mooseye 10/18/12 - 10:31 am
5
0
It does say "without bond".

It does say "without bond". There is no bond in a probation violation case.
You are held until a judge lets you go.
The $157 was not a bond, it was money Sentinel thought was owed to them.
Since they are a private, for profit company, I do see this as being jailed for a civil debt. Wrong Wrong Wrong. If this is allowed, next the county cops will be collecting past due light bills, or jailing you for it.

PghSteelersFan
141
Points
PghSteelersFan 10/18/12 - 10:57 am
4
0
All the comments about

All the comments about putting a fence around Arkansas or DC to hold people are interesting. They speak volumes about the overcrowding situation that is found today but the real reason for the article is a person was 'taken off a street and put in jail' with what seems to be misleading information by a private contractor. The Judge had no option but to issue an arrest warrant based on the faulty information. It isn't his/her job to research the matter. It is the responsibility of the administrative staff at the private contractor's office to keep records correct and up to date. If the article is correct and one has to believe it is, then the private contractor is at fault and the person has every right to address a wrong done to them.
As for the time taken to pay $157.00, the article doesn't state if the person has children that have to be cared for, perhaps the family had other bills to pay which by not paying would have meant the lights or gas going off, what if the mortgage was due (these days miss one day and a bank goes into foreclosure mode), or it could be the husband's payday was then.
Blaming the victim for circumstances not even in the article is not always the right thing to do. To do so is to 'assume' and everyone knows what happens when we 'assume'. It makes an '[filtered word]' out of you and me.

Jake
34054
Points
Jake 10/18/12 - 11:11 am
2
1
Tough choice

Let's see here........Either wife stays in jail for 2 weeks or I pay $157.......hmmmm.........

KSL
143815
Points
KSL 10/18/12 - 11:23 am
2
0
Realitycheck09

You can count on me not having to go through it!

mooseye
272
Points
mooseye 10/18/12 - 11:25 am
3
0
There is a lot of assuming

There is a lot of assuming going on here. It says "after the husband paid". He may have paid it the day she was picked up.
Even if he did pay it right away, it is still a probation violation case, so it probably (assumption) still had to be reviewed by a judge. Or maybe he just didn't have it, or maybe the wife was defiant and didn't want him to pay it to prove a point. Who knows?, based on the article?
And then there is the fact that we all know reporters get things completely wrong sometimes, so....
I still think it is wrong to place someones freedom in the hands of a private, FOR PROFIT company in any case!

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 10/18/12 - 12:10 pm
2
0
tip of the iceberg. check out

tip of the iceberg. check out the history of privatized prisons, and their growing "popularity" with states.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 10/18/12 - 12:15 pm
2
0
Ya know, you can't pay off

Ya know, you can't pay off your fine early. You have to pay it off in monthly installments, so they can keep getting interest.
I know because of an unfortunate speeding ticket many years ago.

Little Lamb
49038
Points
Little Lamb 10/18/12 - 12:22 pm
2
0
Difference

I would say that the private prisons have a different business model than the private probation monitoring companies. The private prisons are contracted by the state and get their payments from the state. The private probation companies get their money from the citizens out on probation. They can charge exorbitant fees because the probationer has no choice, no competition.

Now you would be comparing apples to apples if the prisons started charging room and board fees to the prisoners directly. Prisoners could pay for the level of service they desired. Private room costs one fee, two in a room costs less, and four in a room costs even less. For meals, you could have a cafeteria, and people could choose and pay for what they want — steak costs more, bologna costs less. They could make the whole prison a la carte — pay as you go for exercise equipment, TV watching, telephone privileges. It could be a money-making system.

Little Lamb
49038
Points
Little Lamb 10/18/12 - 12:24 pm
2
0
Corruption

omnomnom posted:

Ya know, you can't pay off your fine early. You have to pay it off in monthly installments, so they can keep getting interest.

Now that is something wrong, wrong, wrong. They need to stop that policy now. If a person can pay his fine early, he should be able to.

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 10/18/12 - 12:24 pm
3
0
This Article

Still a little confused on this...hope we hear more. KSL,"never say never", in this day and time.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 10/18/12 - 12:42 pm
2
0
Actually Little Lamb, I found

Actually Little Lamb, I found out that policy must have been changed.. talked to a friend about it a few minutes ago and they were able to pay off their fine early. I last dealt with Sentinel in 2003 or 2004.

The idea of prisons becoming a business model rather sickens me.
Have you heard about the judge in pennsylvania who sentenced teenagers to years in prison for minor offenses.. he was getting a kickback from the prison company.
That was not an isolated incident either.

Gage Creed
19399
Points
Gage Creed 10/18/12 - 08:47 pm
0
0
Speaking from recent

Speaking from recent experience with Sentinel...you can pay off the fine early...but you have to report for your monthly visit with your PO and pay the associated fees for at least a defined portion of your probation before you can be placed on unsupervised probation.

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