Second suit filed against local probation company

On the heels of a class action lawsuit filed April 10 in federal court, a class action suit was  filed in Grady Superior Court Monday against the same Cairo-based private probation company.
Red Hills Community Probation LLC, Margaret Crutchfield and the City of Cairo are named as defendants in the suit filed Monday by Cairo attorney K. Todd Butler on behalf of plaintiff T.W. Green Jr.
Butler said Monday that this was not a copycat suit and noted he had put the defendants in the case on notice of possible legal action last November.
“Both of these suits arise out of nearly identical facts and the same pattern of conduct. It’s just a different set of people,” Butler told The Messenger Monday night.
Similar to the federal suit, this suit also contends the defendants illegally detained a plaintiff and defrauded and deceived the plaintiff into paying or surrendering money not due or payable to the defendants in this case.
Defendants in the federal case, in addition to Red Hills and Mrs. Crutchfield, include 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.
All three municipal courts in which Red Hills serves as the private probation provider are presided over by Judge Joshua C. Bell, who also serves as Grady County State Court Judge.
It is on Judge Bell’s recommendation that Red Hills serves as the private probation provider in these courts.
According to the state action filed this week, T.W. Green Jr., plead guilty to possession of less than one ounce of marijuana on May 14, 2014 in Cairo Municipal Court and was sentenced to 12 months probation plus a fine of $1,248 and a $44 per month probation supervision fee. The suit alleges the court made no provision that payment of any part of the fine or costs would be a condition precedent to such persons’ probation.
The suit further alleges that after Green was sentenced, he met with Margaret Crutchfield of Red Hills or another employee of Red Hills and was told an initial payment of $400 was due, and if he failed to pay, a Cairo police officer would jail him until the demanded initial payment was made.
According to court documents, the plaintiff was held until a family member paid the requested $400.
The suit contends that Crutchfield does not have the legal right and authority to jail a newly sentenced probationer who does not make an initial payment.
The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages, attorneys fees, punitive damages and a trial by jury.
Also sought is a decree to end the contract between Red Hills and Cairo Municipal court as well as a suspension or revocation of any license, permit or prior approval granted to Red Hills by any agency of the State of Georgia.
Mrs. Crutchfield was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon and Cairo Police Chief Keith Sandefur declined to comment.
Cairo City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman said Tuesday he had not had time to research the claims, but noted that he would not be the attorney representing the city in this matter.
According to Lehman, the city’s insurance provider would provide their own counsel to represent the city in the suit.
The federal class action suit, which does not include the City of Cairo, 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.
Butler described the practices of Red Hills as being worse than debtor’s prison.
“At least in the old days, a debtor’s prison was legal. This is not legal,” Butler told The Messenger Monday.

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