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Red Hills Community Probation is named in federal lawsuit

A private probation company based in Cairo is named in a class action lawsuit filed in federal court late last week.
Red Hills Community Probation LLC and its CEO Margaret Crutchfield are named as defendants in the federal suit along with Martiele Pickle and Jodi Simpson, probation officers employed by Red Hills; Pelham Police Chief Nealie McCormick, former Bainbridge Public Safety Director Eric Miller; police officers for the cities of Pelham and Bainbridge; and the city of Pelham and the City of Bainbridge.
Not named in the suit is Judge Joshua C. Bell who serves as the municipal court judge for both the cities of Bainbridge and Pelham. Judge Bell also serves as the municipal judge in Cairo and is the sitting judge of Grady County State Court. On his recommendation, Red Hills Community Probation serves as the probation provider for the city of Cairo Municipal Court and Grady County State Court.
The class action suit is being brought by Adel Edwards, Fred Barber, Vera Cheeks, Ulysses West and James H. Davis Jr. The plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, which is the same group that represented plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Grady County and former Grady County State Court Judge Bill Bass that has tentatively been settled.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs contend that Red Hills Probation is illegally detaining indigent defendants sentenced to probation to coerce them into borrowing money to get out of jail.
“Red Hills probation officers hold poor people for ransom over traffic tickets, while their families scramble to come up with money to secure their release,” said SCHR attorney Sarah Geraghty. She added, “Practices like this one erode public confidence in law enforcement and undermine the integrity of the court system.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs also claim that law enforcement officers in Bainbridge and Pelham are liable for knowingly assisting Red Hills employees in violating the rights of the plaintiffs.
The Messenger sought comment from Red Hills CEO Margaret Crutchfield Tuesday afternoon, but she was unavailable.
Grady County State Court Judge Joshua C. Bell said Tuesday afternoon it would be improper for him to comment on the suit.
According to media reports, Georgia has the nation’s largest misdemeanor private probation system with more than 30 licensed companies overseeing approximately 140,000 probationers and several similar lawsuits are ongoing.

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