Detaining and Jailing the Poor: The Corporate Way

Southwest Georgia (TFC) – Twice in the past fifteen days, two separate class action lawsuits, one in U.S. District Court, one in Grady County Superior Court, were filed naming Red Hills Community Probation (RHCP) LLC, its CEO Margaret B. Crutchfield, and the cities of Cairo, Pelham and Bainbridge, GA, that hired the private probation company, as defendants.  The Federal case, Edwards, et al, v Red Hills Community Probation LLC, et al, filed by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, also names probation officers and members of various police departments, including Pelham Police Chief Nealie McCormick and Bainbridge Public Safety Director Eric Miller. The state case, filed by K. Todd Butler of Cairo, Green v Red Hills, et al, filed in Grady County Georgia Superior Court, alleges the defendants violated a number of state statutes including various RICO laws as well.  The two cases, though not connected in any way, arise out of nearly identical facts and the same pattern of conduct. Essentially the only major difference between each case, are the people involved and the jurisdiction each were filed in.

Vera Cheeks

The reading of these two complaints clearly alleges egregious conduct by a private corporation, acting as an agent of the government, violating the constitutional protections of these plaintiffs. The complaints allegations show a pattern of abuse by the defendant that literally preyed on the recently convicted, the poor and the disenfranchised of society in the name of greed.

Cairo is a small town in rural southwest Georgia. The Grady County Seat.  Back in 1835 when it was founded Georgians considered the southwest section of the state “which God Almighty had left in an unfinished condition.” In 1906, Cairo, pronounced CAY-roe, became a city and in 1919 the great Jackie Theodore Robinson was born. Known as “syrup city” the main industries today are timber, cotton, and peanuts. A town of just under 10,000 people with 30% of the population having an income below the poverty line. Over 50% of the population is African American with 43% white. T.W. Green, the plaintiff, resides in Cairo.

In May of 2014 Green pleaded guilty to possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. The court imposed a sentence of twelve months probation and a fine of $1,248 .00. The conditions of probation included the requirement that he pay a $44 a month probation supervision fee, that he pay for and complete an alcohol and drug course within 120 days, and that he performs 140 hours of community  service.

Immediately after being sentenced, Green went to the Red Hills Community Probation Office as required, to check in and begin his probation sentence. Green met with an employee of Red Hills and after completing the necessary paperwork, Green was then told he was required to make an initial payment of $400.00. Green informed the Red Hills employee that he did not have $400.00 with him. He was then told if he failed to pay the initial payment right then he would be taken to jail immediately.and would not be released until he made the demanded $400.00 payment.  Since Green did not have the money, he was detained by the defendant, placed in a holding cell at the Grady County Courthouse and transported to the Grady County Jail. Green was then booked on the charge of “failure to make an initial payment of $400.00 against his fine, court cost or probation supervision fees.” Green was told that if he came up with the $400.00 he would be released. Essentially creating a bail situation for Green. At no time did the employee of Red Hills seek a warrant from the court in order to execute this action.  Green arranged for the $400.00 to be paid and he was released. At no time was the court or the prosecutor involved in these events.

K. Todd Butler, attorney for Green in the civil suit, stated that,

“this type of behavior he has discovered is a common practice by Defendant Red Hills, and is done with no statutory authority, implied or expressed, while conducting business as the official probation authority for Grady County.”  

Attorney Butler, discussing the case by telephone, described what is essentially a private corporation, acting under the color of state law, imprisoning people sentenced to probation, without probable cause, warrant or any authority from a court of competent jurisdiction. Butler alleged in the complaint that Red Hills committed false imprisonment, conversion and trespass personalty, and also committed predicate crimes to support a RICO charge.  The predicate crimes being Kidnapping, False Imprisonment and Related Offenses, Theft by Extortion and False Representations to Government Officials.. Butler explained that the facts show defendant Red Hills engaged in a continuing practice of illegal behavior and the plaintiffs’ are entitled to redress.

A review of Georgia law seems to support Butler’s statements.  For example, when Red Hills

“utilized the armed, uniformed police power of the City of Cairo to detain and move members {of Class II}, including Plaintiff, it knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed or covered up by trick, scheme or device from the knowledge of police officers of the City of Cairo Police Department or deputies of the Grady County Sheriff, including jailers employed by the Sheriff, the material fact that such detentions and transportations were in fact abductions and asportations without lawful authority or warrant, or it made false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations to police officers of the City of Cairo Police Department or deputies, and the Grady County Sheriff, including jailers employed by the Sheriff, that such abductions and asportations were with lawful authority or warrant, and it did so in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-10-20 (giving false information to government officials).”

If employees for Red Hills were charged for their actions under this statute that charge would be a felony. As Butler discussed with me each of these acts constitutes a “predicate act” under the Georgia RICO statute.

Red Hills Community Probation is a Georgia Limited Liability Company created in 2002. Its principal office or place of business is   AnnualRegistrationInitialFiling_Page_1located in Cairo.  Red Hills contracts with local governments to supervise probation These cases are handled by the municipal courts of Bainbridge, Cairo, Pelham, and Whigham, and by the Magistrate Court of Grady County.

The Edwards complaint paints an even broader picture of the abuses by Red Hills.  The named plaintiffs in this complaint were subject to the same kind of treatment as Green for various misdemeanor and traffic offenses. Plaintiff Adel Edwards plead guilty to burning leaves in his yard without a permit. Plaintiff Fred Barber plead guilty to driving with a suspended registration. Plaintiff Vera Cheeks plead guilty to the offense of failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Each Plaintiff immediately after their disposition court appearance went to the Red Hills Probation Office inside the courthouse.  In each case, Red Hills personnel and city police detained the plaintiffs. Edwards was held at the courthouse and then transported and jailed for several days because he could not afford to make a $250 payment. Barber was confined in an inmate holding cell inside courthouse until his cousin brought $70 to secure his release. Cheeks was also confined inside the courthouse until her fiancé brought $50 to secure her release.Cairo

Again, in all these instances Red Hills was not acting in accordance with Georgia Law or the sentencing order issued by the judge.

Adding to these practices the complaint further alleges another illegal business practice by Red Hills,

“its practice of falsely representing to former probationers that they are required to report to Red Hills personnel and to pay Red Hills any remaining money owed on fines and fees even after the probationers’ sentences are complete (“the Expired Probation Sentence Policy”). When probationers are finished with their probationary periods but still have not paid all fines and fees, Red Hills personnel have falsely instructed former probationers that they could be taken back to court and jailed for failing to report to Red Hills officers and failing to make payments to Red Hills.”

Again, a practice that has no basis in law.  Red Hills appears to making rules solely designed to financially benefit itself, fitting the RICO model advanced in the Green case by Attorney Butler.

One thing appears certain to this writer. A vast amount of credible evidence exists supporting the allegations against Red Hills.  Red hills has yet to respond to a request for comment. This is a developing story.