NEW UPDATE: Sheriff denies youth-center's naked 'squat & cough' policy for teens

By Patsy R. Brumfield / Daily Journal

2:00 P.M. – Alcorn County Sheriff Charles Rinehart admitted today that all youths coming into the county-city holding center are searched but not subjected to body cavity searches or “squat and cough.”

“We don’t do that,” he said about the procedure, which three 15-year-olds claim happened to them at the Corinth facility last July.

They were arrested in Senatobia on a trespassing charge and spent the July 8 weekend there. In a trial later, they were found not guilty.

Today, the teens – two girls and a boy – and their parents were present at a Senatobia news conference with their Jackson lawyer, who said they continue to consider what legal action to take about the situation, which they insist is a violation of their Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable searches.”

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SENATOBIA – Three teens – two girls and a boy – stood before regional media this morning as their Jackson attorney claimed they were strip searched on a trespassing charge when they were admitted to a Corinth holding center in July.

The following is a rolling account of the news conference at the Senatobia Church of Christ:

10:30 a.m. – (Cliff Johnson comes out with names of people for news conference: Lakiya Burton, mother Torey Burton, father Dexter Burton, Senatobia; Larandra Wright, Southaven, mother Lakedra Wright, Randy Wright; Kevonta Mack, mother Cassandra Mack, father Thomas Hassell, Senatobia.) Says each teen will stand with parents at the news conference. Looks like several newspapers and three TV stations for news conference.

Johnson says he will take questions after their remarks. Says others watching will include members of the community.

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10:31 – Participants gather around speaker’s stand at church.

Johnson – Thank you for coming. I’m Cliff Johnson with Pigott Law Firm in Jackson.

He introduces participants.

On July 8, the three walked across a neighbor’s yard and a complaint was made. Arrested, put in police car and taken to station. They thought they’d be released to their parents. What parents thought too. But Tate Yout Court referee Leigh Ann Darby was there and she wanted them drug tested. Parents concerned and curious about why. They asked why. Darby didn’t take kindly to them and said she had power over all the children of Tate County. She insisted on test. Hassell said he wanted to call a lawyer.

When he said that, she ordered them to the detention center. They were shackled, hands and ankles, drive in van to Alcorn Detention Center. Stripped naked, forced to squat and cough while closely observed. Given center underwear and clothes. Held three days.

We’re concerned by fact that the referee, who so impulsively without due process, sne them to center and is soon to resume her position Nov. 1. People of Tate County are concerned – supervisors passed a no-confidence resolution about Darby. She’s also drug court judge and family master. Supervisors objected. She wasn’t elected by anybody, she’s appointed by Judge Percy Lynchard, senior chancellor. Selected by a vote of 1-0. Hope judge Lynchard will re-think this appointment. Think about this story, listen to supervisors. Trust he will not return Darby to the bench.

Also concerned about Alcorn policy to strip search every child in that facility. Those children, regardless of age and charges. When they strip them naked, force them to squat and cough – every Mississippian, American should be highly offended. Who is overseeing these youth court judges, centers? Who’s protecting our children. We call on leadership of Alcorn County, supervisors, sheriff to revisit this policy, change it. To change it in writing, declare publicly that they won’t engage in this unconstitutional conduct.

Fourth Amendment protects us against unreasonable searches. Hope those who stripped and searched them will apologize. They are still dealing with this. Tate officials also sent them there. They know that every child is stripped and searched there. Leadership should end that policy. Should cease immediately.

They are responsible, they must answer. If they didn’t know, they should explain. If they did know, they have a lot of explaining to do.

Many of these youth court matters never come to light because confidential, but these families wanted you to know what happened. They were children who were found not guilty, who committed no crime. They want Mississippi, America to know what happens behind veil of secrecy of youth court system. Applaud them. This is embarassing, difficult for these teens – they are real people with bright futures who have been hurt. Hope we must take this seriously.

Hope you will see change. What they want. What we expect. Want you to hear from these families.

Dexter Burton – This whole situaiton was terrible, walking through someone’s yard. HJumiliating, embarrassing. If we don’t stand up, no one else will.

Lekedra Wright – Feel like mydaughter’s civil rights were violated.

Thomas Hassell – As a father at jail when they took him away, it bothered me. Knew he had did nothing wrong. For me not being able to stop them it hurt real bad. His mother cried all night long, Made me feel helpless and less than a man. Going to bother me a long time. I did the right thing and hope right thing come out of it. We’ll wait and see what going to happen now.

JOHNSON – Due to potential litigation in this matter, won’t ask families to answer questions. Haven’t filed lawsuit yet, considering options. Continuing to determine appropriate agencies. Want to see Lynchard reconsider decision, Darby remoed from positions. Want Alcorn County to change its practices. Want to see Tate change practice of sending to there. Any other county change its policies. Want to see public outcry, media interest. Want to see answers, what’s happening to our children. We want desperately not to have htis happen again.

Elsewhere? (Q for class action?) Got calls, potential for class action. We know 5th Circuit makes clear that blanket policies violate 4th Amendment, is illegal. Know it’s happened to every child that’s been through there.

(Q about Darby?) Anecdotally, we hear of longterm complaints about her. People don’t want to come forward. Youth court confidentially. Proceedings before Ms Commission on Judicial Performance are confidential. There’s widespread concern. Supervisors wouldn’t have taken action if hadn’t been a longterm concern.

(Q about custody) You’d think about taking custody of them, there would be opportunity for counsel, formal hearing held. To so flippantly seending children to jail … even Lynchard said she overstepped her bounds.

(Q about changes to the teens?) Suffered humiliation. Look at studies about damages of strip searches, most invasive, degrading search. On adolescents. I’m 44, I don’t want it to happen. They’ll live with it a long time. Humiliating and degrading. Should be done only in most serious cases. (No comment on counseling.)

(Q what about DeSoto County? about custody issues there?) I don’t have specific instances there. Appropriate to ask questions. Hope you will go out and ask questions of all youth detention centers. Hope this might spur other communities to become active to protect their children. Encouraging efforts coming out of AG’s office, with Gen. Hood to revamp youth policies.

(Q in July, why choosing to speak out now?) Because Nov. 1 is Tuesday and she’s going back on the bench. We don’t want that to happen. That’s why we’re speaking out. (What if she does?) I think community will respond. We will continue our inestigation of this case and talk about remedies. Only person that will keep her from going back to bench is Judge Lynchard. We can’t stop her.

(Q judicial conduct charges about this?) Any such complaint would be confidential. If it had been filed, it would be inappropriate for me to comment. I’ll allow you to infer what you will.

(Q intervention by police with Darby in this?) Want o be fair to Sheriff Brand Lance. Hassell sought sheriff’s assistance. He was responsive. and Hassell was appreciative. He unnderstands that Lance tried to get them out on Saturday. Will have to ask him what happened. Commend sheriff’s efforts there, attempted intervention. Lance also spoke to Senatobia police taht day, don’t have details.

(Q complaint was walking across yard?) Prallel street in Senatobia, on summer afternon theyw ere going from one stree to another, walked through two duplexes. Renter called and said wanted children arrested. Police complied. Children were arrested. No history with renter. They’ve never been warned by the renter about it. 209 and 207 Morgan St. Renter in 209 who complained.

(Q agest now?) All 15. All 10th graders. (Q is this normal protocal about trespassing?) I don’t know. (Q how long on property?) 20 seconds may be fair. But owners/renters say they had problem with kids walking through the yards. Never any allegations of misconduct, vandalism, lous noises.

(Q police report on file?) It’s a youth court file so I don’t think it’s public. (Q went by propery and ther’e s fence.) In July, was no fence and no trespassing signs.(Q clarify your representation, message to Darby. What other legal action to pursue?) There are options, statute 1983 prohibits states from violating constitutional rights of citizens, option under MS Tort Claims Act, injunctive act against Darby and counties. money damages permitted for injury under 1983 from Alcorn and Tate counties, individual oficials could be subject to those actions. We haven’t decided. Hae plenty of time, explore possibility of class actions. Getting emails and messages from concerned parents. Want to explore carefully before we file any lawsuits. Came today because Tuesday is day Darby goes back on bench.

If any noteworthy developments, we will contact you. Not seeking to try the case in media.

11:01 – news conference ends.

SENATOBIA – With half an hour to go, Jackson attorney Cliff Johnson worked logistics this morning for a news conference to announce public concerns and possibly a federal lawsuit over the alleged strip searches of three teenagers in Alcorn County.

The news conference is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. inside the Senatobia Church of Christ, just south of downtown in the Tate County seat.

Johnson’s clients – two girls and a boy – are expected to tell their story as he announces details of possible legal action.

Expected to be in the legal crosshairs will be Alcorn County-Corinth’s Juvenile Holding Center, Sheriff Charles Rinehart, center administrator Shelly Hopkins, Tate County’s youth judge Leigh Ann Darby – who ordered the youths to the Corinth facility – and perhaps others.

The teenagers were arrested last July on a trespassing complaint, taken into police custody and transferred to Corinth, where they were held over a weekend.

Johnson said Wednesday they insist the strip searches were a violation of their Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches.

Also at issue is whether the Alcorn-Corinth facility operates with a blanket strip-search policy, which is labeled inappropriate by American Correctional Association guidelines.

When the teens’ case was heard in youth court, they were found not guilty.

A few weeks ago, the Tate County Board of Supervisors suspended Darby from youth and drug court duties through a “no confidence” resolution.

• Come back to and read Friday’s Daily Journal for more details.

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