Attorneys for both the plaintiffs and for Amerson and Ward agreed on two of the dismissals, but Judge Robert Propst ruled in the latter’s favor when he dismissed an allegation that Amerson and Ward violated the federal Juvenile Justice Act.
The suit was filed last April by an Anniston woman who accused the sheriff and Ward of verbally and physically assaulting her 14-year-old son when he was participating in a Calhoun County Jail program for teens.
One of the complaints against the county officials alleged that the jail program was a so-called “scared-straight” program and, by running it, Amerson and Ward violated the Juvenile Justice Act — a federal law that forbids law enforcement from detaining youthful offenders in the same place as adult inmates.
But, going against the arguments of Stacy Brown’s attorneys, last month Propst dismissed that particular complaint. On Dec. 7 the federal judge filed an 11-page memorandum opinion that — in essence — stated the actions of Amerson and Ward did not violate the Juvenile Justice Act, because Brown’s son was not a youthful offender or charged with a crime when he participated in the jail program.
In the plaintiff’s own complaint, it states that J.B. — the way Brown’s son is identified throughout the lawsuit to protect the minor’s identity — “was charged with no crime, had committed no crime and was suspected of no crime.” Instead, the plaintiff’s complaint said, J.B. was at the jail last February, when the alleged abuse occurred, because he had violated a school Internet policy, had been suspended and was signed up for the jail program by his mother.
In Propst’s dismissal of the Juvenile Justice Act violation, he notes J.B.’s voluntary participation in the program.
“It is certainly questionable as to whether someone who voluntarily participates in a program is in ‘detention’ or is being ‘detained,’” Propst wrote.
A surveillance video published by The Star in March shows a young boy — handcuffed, shackled and dressed in an orange-striped jumpsuit — as Amerson grabs the boy around the neck and holds him down.
The lawsuit, filed a week after the paper published the video, identifies the boy in the video as J.B. and discusses at length the racial slurs, harassment and physical assault he was allegedly subjected to while participating in the jail program.
“The Sheriff obviously did not fear for his safety or for the safety of others,” the suit states. “ ... J.B. was very nervous and scared, while the Sheriff was very calm and deliberate before the violence ensued.”
The suit also states that J.B. asked Amerson to unchain him and “fight like a man.”
Brown is seeking $500,000 from each defendant in compensatory damages for what the suit calls violations of her son’s civil rights, as well as $500,000 each in punitive damages against Amerson and Ward.
The lawsuit says Ward and other officers used racial slurs to address J.B. and threatened violence.
Attempts Wednesday to reach the attorneys for Brown and for Amerson and Ward were unsuccessful.
Other attempts to reach the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also were unsuccessful.
In addition to the dismissal of the claims that the sheriff and Ward violated the Juvenile Justice Act, Propst — at the agreement of both the defendants and plaintiffs — also dismissed two other claims against the sheriff: that he failed to intervene or to prevent a violation of J.B.’s constitutional rights and that, as a supervisor of Ward and the jail program, he was deliberately indifferent to the harm caused to J.B.
That leaves three allegations for Amerson to defend in the suit’s April trial.
Still standing are claims that Amerson used excessive force against J.B., violated J.B.’s rights under the Fourteenth Amendment — which protects a U.S. citizen’s right to due process and bodily integrity when restrained — and was deliberately indifferent to those rights by “participating in the assault and battery upon J.B.”
Additionally, Ward still must defend the complaint that he failed to intervene or prevent a violation of J.B.’s constitutional rights.
Court records show that a pretrial conference is scheduled to be held in a month — on Feb. 16.
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.