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Lawsuit settled over jailing of Arkansas foster child without warrant

by Amanda Claire Curcio | December 14, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

A civil-rights case centered around the 2016 jailing of an Arkansas foster child without a warrant was settled last week in federal court.

Details about the settlement, which was approved Dec. 5, could not be determined Wednesday.

The lawsuit, first filed in March, asserted that the 14-year-old was deprived of his civil rights through false arrest and imprisonment and that the deputy prosecuting attorney who ordered the jailing routinely detained others without cause.

Witness statements also reveal that law enforcement officials violated departmental policies by following the prosecutor's directive.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in April. Instead, attorneys settled in the "best interest" of the child and to prevent "any more damage," said Andrew Ballard, a North Little Rock private attorney who represented the child in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.

"Everyone involved is, in fact, pleased" with the outcome, he added.

The Jefferson County Circuit Court's juvenile division approved the terms of the settlement because the teenager is in state custody. However, a Circuit Court representative said he couldn't find any settlement records.

During a recess period on Friday, March 11, 2016, the teen found himself called into his school principal's office, handcuffed and shown into the back of a Jefferson County sheriff's patrol car.

No warrant, probable-cause affidavit, criminal summons, or any other documentation required to detain a child was on hand, according to the lawsuit.

The only paperwork provided to school officials was a judge-signed transport order that incorrectly described the teen as a confined juvenile delinquent. The teen is in foster care and doesn't stay at a secure lockup.

The order said the teen should be driven from the Bryant group home where he lived to Pine Bluff so he could testify in adult criminal court against a former foster father accused of sexual abuse of another foster child. The man's trial was to begin March 14, 2016, the next Monday.

Karres Manning, the 11th West Judicial Circuit's deputy prosecutor, wanted the child to testify in court and told a deputy to jail the teen. Deputies later said that it was "protocol to detain a witness for their safety."

The teen had already been removed from the foster home where the alleged abuse occurred and lived at Second Chance Ranch, a faith-based group residence for youths.

The boy spent all weekend in jail, in a cold, single-bed cell at the Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center, court records stated. He was "afraid, confused and asking questions."

According to court affidavits, Kristina Berry, the boy's social worker, said she knew of the trial beforehand and had assured Manning he would be there to testify.

When she learned the teen was jailed, Berry "pleaded" for his release, but Manning was "unhelpful and unsympathetic."

Another caseworker also described Manning as "rude" and said she "refused to cooperate," court records show.

The state's juvenile ombudsmen and Youth Services Division staff members also tried to have the teen released -- to no avail. At the time, it was after-hours. The sheriff's office and the office of Circuit Judge Berlin Jones, who signed the original transport order, failed to respond to the release requests.

After the teen testified in court that Monday, it took hours and several phone calls to the prosecutor's office and the sheriff's office before he was let out.

Putting a youth who is not charged as an adult behind bars without a "valid court order" is against Jefferson County sheriff's office policy, court documents show. An intake officer must also approve -- usually in written form -- such a detention.

Neither happened, the lawsuit asserted.

Deputies said they acted on Manning's "verbal order" to put the teen in jail. They also suggested the transport order's description of the teen as a juvenile delinquent cleared them of wrongdoing.

The sheriff's office has faced at least three federal lawsuits concerning due process in the past five years, but none of those cases show that the prosecuting attorney's office jailed anyone without a warrant. Two cases have been dismissed; one is ongoing, according to court records.

Other defendants listed in the case also said they didn't violate the teen's constitutional rights.

When asked about that charge, Ballard said he could not provide further details.

Amy Webb, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services, could not confirm whether the agency was reviewing the prosecuting office's so-called detention protocol.

Metro on 12/14/2017

Print Headline: Suit settled over Jefferson County's jailing of foster-child witness


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