Clark County drug court wrongly jailed 63, order says

September 30, 2015

A southern Indiana drug treatment court unjustly jailed scores of program participants for an average time of almost seven weeks. The detentions are detailed in a magistrate judge’s proposed order to certify classes in a federal civil rights lawsuit former drug court participants filed against an ex-judge and other officials.

The recommended order issued Tuesday lists 63 people whose criminal charges were diverted to the Clark County Drug Court, but who later were incarcerated for more than 72 hours without due process. According to an IL analysis, the participants spent on average more than 52 days behind bars without being advised of their right to counsel and in some cases before ever seeing a judge.

Plaintiffs in the suit often were locked up after drug court staff received notices of program violations, convened a “staffing meeting,” and sanctioned participants by sending them to jail. This happened without the participants’ representation by an attorney.

“Frequently the … participant was taken to the Clark County Jail from the Staffing Meeting and was held until a ‘Status Conference’ could be held” before former drug court Judge Jerry Jacobi, wrote Magistrate Judge William G. Hussmann Jr. of the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division.

“Defense counsel for the participants were rarely if ever present for the Status Conference,” Hussmann wrote. “Throughout the time period at issue, Judge Jacobi could not recall any specific time that he made a sanction decision that was different than what was recommended to him.”

Jacobi was defeated in the May 2014 Democratic primary. He later agreed to never again serve as a judge to settle a Judicial Qualifications Commission investigation prompted by the allegations of wrongful detentions.

The state suspended the Clark County Drug Treatment Court in February 2014 after the discovery of wrongful detentions. The program was restarted with conditional state approval a month later under the direction of Clark Circuit 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael.

Problems with the drug court under Jacobi were discovered when a deputy prosecutor reviewing files noticed that participant Destiny Hoffman had been in jail for five months after she received a 48-hour sanction for submitting a diluted drug screen. But Jacobi also had signed a bond notice to the sheriff stating Hoffman was to be held without bond until further notice of the court.

hoffman-destiny-mug Hoffman

As prosecutors and defense attorneys dug into court records, more allegations of wrongful detention soon surfaced, and Hoffman became the lead plaintiff in the federal suit pending before Southern District Judge Sarah Evans Barker. The suit is Destiny Hoffman, et al. v. Jerome F. Jacobi, et al., 4:14-CV-12.

According to Hussmann’s recommended order, Hoffman was detained on three occasions for a total of 208 days. Another participant was jailed twice for a total of 263 days. Each of the plaintiffs spent at least five days in jail, and nearly three out of five were incarcerated for a total of more than 30 days.

In addition to the wrongful detentions, the suit alleges drug court staff made unauthorized arrests and searches of participants. After Jacobi fired former drug court director Susan Knoebel and suspended a staff member, Knoebel said she had been acting on Jacobi’s orders in carrying out the unauthorized arrests and searches. Knoebel and other staff and county officials also are named as defendants in the suit.

Hussmann recommends certification of two classes. The first would be participants jailed 72 hours or more after a staffing meeting who were given no notice of their alleged violation or their right to counsel and who were taken straight to jail. The second class would consist of participants brought to a status conference before Jacobi who weren’t notified of an alleged violation or right to counsel and continued to be held longer than 72 hours.

Hussmann noted “the Defendants in this case raise a strong argument that class certification must be denied when the Court must conduct individualized examinations of class members to determine whether they meet the class definition.” But he ruled the plaintiffs’ number and common claims weighed in favor of certifying classes, even though some plaintiffs may not meet the class conditions.

“The Court will determine whether the procedures applicable to ... participants during the time at issue (and within the applicable statute of limitations) meet the requirements of due process. A determination by this Court that due process was met ends the litigation in its entirety. In the event the Court should determine that due process rights were violated, the issue of what damages a class member is entitled to can be established on an equitable basis among the class members,” Hussmann wrote.

“The burden to the Plaintiffs in conducting this case as a class action is that each member of the class gives up the right to individualized consideration of his or her damage claim in order to obtain the benefit of the uniform determination of liability. Those Plaintiffs who believe they were damaged in an extreme manner and deserve compensation at a greater level than others similarly situated still have – at this time – the right to bring an individual claim. Until this Report and Recommendation is adopted or rejected by the District Judge, Plaintiffs have time to consider whether the loss of their right to seek individualized damage claims should cause them to abandon the request for class certification.”


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