An Arkansas deputy prosecuting attorney ordered the jailing of a foster child without reason last year, a federal lawsuit says.
During a recess period, the seventh-grader was unexpectedly called into his school principal's office, handcuffed minutes later and shown into the back of a patrol car, court records show.
A judge-signed order had directed the teen to be taken from Bryant to Pine Bluff, where he was expected to take the stand in adult criminal court and testify against his former foster father, who was charged in the sexual assault of another foster child.
School staff members, a resource officer and another student watched as the teen was shackled by his hands and ankles. The arresting deputy did not have a warrant or probable cause affidavit.
The teen would spend all weekend in a cold, single-bed cell at the Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center despite efforts by social workers and his attorney ad litem to get him out, according to court records.
The boy didn't understand why he was there.
The lawsuit says that in March 2016, Karres Manning, the 11th West Judicial Circuit deputy prosecuting attorney, deprived the teen of his civil rights through false arrest and imprisonment.
The prosecuting attorney's office is also accused of regularly detaining people without cause.
How the teen was handled in this case is described as an "institutionalized practice." Jefferson County and 11th West Judicial Circuit officials have not taken any "effective action to prevent their personnel from continuing to engage in this type of misconduct," the suit says.
Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter did not answer any questions regarding the actions of his deputy. Hunter also said he declined to comment because the case was pending.
A complaint was first filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of the teen in March, almost a year after his arrest.
The teen's attorney, Andrew Ballard of North Little Rock, said that he was "looking forward to getting through the discovery process," which has already begun. Ballard would not offer additional details about the legal aspects of the case.
In August, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright rejected Ballard's argument that the black teen's detention was based on racial bias.
Ballard then filed an amended complaint. That 21-page document claims that the judge-signed "order to deliver" used by the Jefferson County sheriff's deputy to arrest the teen itself was flawed, as well as the way authorities, specifically deputy prosecutor Manning, carried out the order.
The order described the teen as a "juvenile delinquent" who was "confined" to Second Chance Ranch.
But, according to the lawsuit, he was a foster child abruptly taken out of his assigned home when allegations about his foster parent sexually assaulting another child surfaced. The teen was then placed at the ranch, a faith-based program that helps youths. It is not a secure facility.
The order, signed by Circuit Judge Berlin Jones, also said the teen was to be brought to Jefferson County on Monday, March 14, 2016, from Second Chance Ranch. Instead, he was taken from his school days earlier, on March 11.
Jones retired last year and could not be reached for comment.
Court documents show that Manning then had the teen placed in juvenile jail over the weekend. He was not released until after the Monday trial.
The lawsuit says that the deputy prosecutor told the teen, who had asked why he was being detained: "You have to do stuff you don't want. That's life!"
This is not the first time an Arkansas child was wrongly thrown into lockup, longtime Public Defender Dorcy Corbin contends.
Corbin says that nearly five years ago, she and a member of the juvenile ombudsman office came across two children being held at White River Juvenile Detention Center for no reason other than that the state Department of Human Services had "nowhere else to put them." The teens had not committed any offenses.
Corbin describes this discovery as "infuriating." She demanded that the facility director move the children to an appropriate setting and then notified the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The White River juvenile jail, located in Independence County, is now the center of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. Two former supervisors have already pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and civil-rights violations, and at least three detention officers have been accused of participating in a conspiracy to needlessly punish and abuse youths there.
A spokesman for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who is representing Jefferson County's Manning, said that office staff were "not in a position to offer comment at this time."
On Sept. 1, Rutledge petitioned the judge to drop the case because Manning did not have liability insurance coverage and that as a deputy prosecuting attorney, Manning had immunity under Arkansas law. State law prevents state officials from being sued unless they are covered by liability insurance or if they committed "malicious acts ... occurring within the course and scope of their employment," the attorney general argued.
A jury trial is now set for April.
Metro on 09/20/2017
Print Headline: Youth witness wrongly jailed, lawsuit contends