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Man will be face of Sentinel class action suit

Arrest on road led to court fight

Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 11:11 PM
Last updated Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 12:54 AM
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Nathan Mantooth is an unlikely candidate to be the face for a class action lawsuit against the private probation company Sentinel Offender Ser­vices, but he never thought he would find himself handcuffed and hauled off to jail.

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Nathan Mantooth is one of more than a dozen plaintiffs challenging Sentinel Offender Services. He says he was wrongfully arrested for a probation violation.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Nathan Mantooth is one of more than a dozen plaintiffs challenging Sentinel Offender Services. He says he was wrongfully arrested for a probation violation.

A quiet, polite man intent on working hard and taking care of his family, Man­tooth doesn’t want to be in the center of a contentious legal battle, but what happened to him wasn’t right, he said.

“I know I was driving badly, but I did everything I was supposed to do,” said Man­tooth, whose trouble started with a traffic offense.

The 20-year-old is one of more than a dozen plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of a private, for-profit company preforming a judicial function. The suits also accuse Sentinel employees of causing the false arrest and jailing of thousands of people.

A series of lawsuits were filed in late 2012, and on Sept. 16, a judge ruled that Mantooth and others should never have been arrested and jailed.

On March 18, Mantooth was driving with his 2-year-old daughter when he was stopped in Harlem for not wearing a seat belt. After the officer ran the normal check for outstanding warrants, a hit came back for a probation violation.

A warrant for Man­tooth’s arrest was granted because a Sentinel probation officer told Richmond County State Court Judge Patricia Booker that he hadn’t complied with any of the conditions that Boo­ker set when he pleaded guilty Jan. 23 to improper lane change.

The judge imposed a fine and surcharges of $420 and ordered him to complete the state-mandated safe-driving class and serve one year on probation. But Booker also said that once he paid his fine and completed his class, he wouldn’t have to report to probation.

That was important to Man­tooth. He was already out $400 to $500 for the lawyer, the $420 fine and $75 for the class. If he could cut out a $35 monthly probation fee, he intended to do that.

Man­tooth paid the fine before leaving the courthouse Jan. 23 and signed up for the class that afternoon. He completed the course Jan. 30, and the next day he took time off work to take his certificate to the Sentinel office.

Mantooth said he was told his information hadn’t been entered into the computer system yet. He said they wouldn’t make a copy of his certificate. On Feb. 15, he took more time off work to make a second visit to Sentinel. Again he was told he wasn’t in the computer yet.

On Feb. 27, the warrant for Man­tooth’s arrest was issued because he allegedly hadn’t paid the fine or restitution, attended the class or reported to probation. However, Mantooth didn’t owe any restitution and his sentencing documents show he had already paid the fine.

AT LATER COURT HEARINGS, Sentinel attorneys contended that the company had no record that Mantooth came to its office. They said Sentinel had only a previous address for Mantooth and that it was his responsibility to provide current contact information.

Mantooth is adamant that he gave his new address to the court clerk and Sentinel when he paid his fine and that his lawyer also forwarded the information to Sentinel.

Donna Mantooth was incredulous when her son’s girlfriend called March 18 saying Nathan was being arrested. She insisted on talking to the officer, who said he had no choice. She went to the Richmond County jail to find out why her son had been arrested and how to get him out. It took all day and cost her $103 – not a fine, but the money Sentinel claimed it was owed for providing probation services to Mantooth.

“I was thinking (while in jail): What am I going to do? I got a 2-year-old and a girlfriend at home depending on me,” Nathan Mantooth said. He was worried about his job and missing work. “I didn’t know anything about what was going on.”

The Mantooth family aren’t people who sue, Donna Mantooth said, and they taught their sons to respect the law. What she wants the most is for it to have never happened, so that her son wouldn’t have a memory of being arrested in front of his child, she said.

Mantooth said he would like for the city to cancel its contract with Sentinel and hire a company that would follow the rules, or Georgia should go the way of other states and decriminalize traffic offenses.

He had to borrow the money to pay for ticket. He’s since paid it back.

IF THE CLASS ACTION SUIT is successful, the Mantooth family can recover the $103 Donna Mantooth paid to get her son out of jail. Many others will also get back any money paid to Sentinel after the expiration date of their original sentence.

Sentinel is appealing the Sept. 16 ruling by Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig, contending that he has misinterpreted the state statute governing private probation.

As Craig noted at a recent hearing, the Legislature might change the law on private probation companies next year. During the 2012-13 session, Sentinel lobbied for changes to allow private companies to seek the suspension of a probation sentence when a probation violation warrant is obtained.

According to the Private Pro­bation Asso­ciation of Georgia, during the last quarter of 2012, there were more than 254,000 people serving misdemeanor probation terms.

According to an application to renew its insurance, Sentinel’s revenue in the month of June 2012 was more than $5.58 million.

Craig’s ruling is limited to Richmond and Columbia counties. Other judges, including Superior Court judges in Cobb County, are following his lead in misdemeanor cases and recalling several hundred probation violation warrants.

In Richmond County, about 5,000 such warrants have been issued but haven’t been served. Craig’s ruling will keep those warrants from being enforced for anyone whose original sentence has expired. They will be among the people Mantooth will serve as the class representative.

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dickworth1 10/06/13 - 05:54 am
what judge!

Improper lane change results in $420.00 fine, safety driving class, and a year's probation! This judge needs to be thrown out of his office. Probation for improper lane change, give me a break! This private company and the county need to be investigated by outside sources not by local authorities. Something is not right and needs to be corrected. It sounds like another one of Richmond county blunders!

geecheeriverman 10/06/13 - 06:12 am
Columbia County Fines

My son was stopped in Columbia County for an expired tag (22 days expired) He was fined $705.00 dollars. The judge asked him if he was prepared to pay on the spot. He said "pay the fine today, or I will put you on probation for 6 months." My son paid the fine and was not put on probation. I will never refer to a Judge as "His Honor" ever again.

JRC2024 10/06/13 - 08:52 am
Having had to deal with

Having had to deal with Sentinel several times in the past for employees I can tell you it is a rat race down there. So So many people in the lobby. The fees are large and the person paying them usually do not make the money required to keep up. Fines and the monitoring fees need to be lowered and a driving ticket should never be counted as criminal. I do not feel sorry for Sentinel at all.

Graymare 10/06/13 - 12:17 pm
What a racket!

The owners of Sentinel and the judges who back them should be arrested. This is ridiculous!

independent109 10/06/13 - 01:24 pm
Decriminalize This!

This trial should be covered on national news. When the justice system becomes privatized for profit, the citizens are taken advantage of. Private prisons with quotas, probation for profit and the traffic court machine should all be put on trial. I'm for law and order but not for chest beating enforcement intimidating the public over minor offences. Turn rolling thunder inward for awhile.

What this young man went through is sickening. How about truth, justice and fairness for a change?

myfather15 10/07/13 - 05:27 am
I agree with the comments about Sentinel;

I also disagree with a private, for profit company being involved in the probation services; it simply leaves far to much room for corruption.

BUT, I'm also curious to know if the Chronicle fact checked Mr. Mantooth's allegations. Something just doesn't sound right here. I've never heard of probation for improper lane change. Maybe if this improper lane change resulted in a crash with serious injury and involved drinking; but not just improper lane change. That is such a minor violation, the vast majority of the time officers will give warnings for the offense as long as no crash is involved.

"That was important to Man­tooth. He was already out $400 to $500 for the lawyer, the $420 fine and $75 for the class."

So, you get a ticket for improper lange change and you hire an attorney, paying them 400-500? Very rare you ever see people get attorney's for tickets, even wealthy people who can afford it.

"What she wants the most is for it to have never happened, so that her son wouldn’t have a memory of being arrested in front of his child, she said."

Sounds like someone is expecting a little sympathy money!! Not to type to sue? YEAH RIGHT!!

Marinerman1 10/07/13 - 12:47 pm
Sentinel Should Shown the Door

This company sounds like it is just interested in the money coming in, with NO supervision in place. WHAT A BUNCH OF CROOKS. Unfortunately, the Judges and the Courts continue to give them contracts and business. Hopefully, this class action suit will kill off the company, and the owners will be charged and locked up for a very long time. Scum, the whole lot of them.

zazzy43 10/07/13 - 05:03 pm
So if someone cannot pay the

So if someone cannot pay the fine for a traffic ticket on the day of court, how do you propose the case gets resolved? Should the justice system just let them walk away without paying the ticket. Probation ensures that people will actually pay their fine if they cannot pay it in full that day. Most of the time, the probation will terminate upon payment of the fine in full. No system that any of you could propose will be perfect. This stuff is run by human beings; imperfect human beings.

willie Lee
willie Lee 10/08/13 - 05:22 am
Publish Names

Why not identify those idiots from Sentinel that actually put these people in jail without justification and show the affidavits supposed to be signed and reviewed by a judge. Corruption is everywhere and Sentinel made money with every arrest warrant prepared. Did any of it trickle down to other people?

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