By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
SENATOBIA – Alcorn County officials on Thursday declined to make public their youth jail strip-search policy as three teens and their families questioned what happened to them there.
The teens – two girls and a boy, all 15 – say they were stripped naked and forced to “squat and cough” July 8 when they were booked into the Alcorn County-City of Corinth Juvenile Holding Center.
Hours earlier, they’d been arrested on trespassing charges after they walked across a private lawn in Senatobia.
Thursday, their Jackson attorney, Cliff Johnson, hosted a news conference to talk about their situation and accuse various officials of violating their rights to due process and protection from unreasonable searches.
“This is embarrassing, difficult for these teens,” Johnson said as they and their parents stood before the news media. “They are real people with bright futures who have been hurt.”
The teens are 10th-graders Larandra Wright of Southaven and Lakiya Burton and Kevonta Mack of Senatobia.
They declined to speak at the Senatobia Church of Christ event, but their parents made brief statements.
Mack’s father, Thomas Hassell, said he felt dejected to see his child taken away to the juvenile jail without any sort of hearing.
“It made me feel helpless and less than a man,” Hassell recalled. “His mother cried all night. It’s going to bother me for a long time.”
Later Thursday, Alcorn County Sheriff Charles Rinehart said all juveniles entering the Corinth facility are searched, but he denied they were forced to “squat and cough.”
“We don’t do that,” he said, although he and facility administrator Shelly Hopkins declined to make public their strip-search policy without a public records request.
That request was filed Thursday afternoon by the Daily Journal.
Rinehart said Hopkins was advised by the state attorney general’s office not to provide the policy, but an attorney general’s spokesman said that was not true. Later, supervisors’ attorney Robert Krohn said he’d instructed them to require a formal request for any documents.
Meanwhile, Johnson challenged Tate County authorities and Chancellor Percy Lynchard to prevent the return of Leigh Ann Darby, whom Lynchard suspended two months from duties as youth court and drug court judge. She’s due back on the job Nov. 1.
Darby was at the Senatobia Police Department when the three teens were brought in. Johnson said that when she demanded they all be tested for drugs, Hassell said he wanted a lawyer, and she ordered the trio sent directly to Alcorn County.
“We haven’t filed a lawsuit yet,” Johnson said. “We’re considering our options.”
He said since published reports about the teen trio’s experiences, he’s heard other concerns from parents.
“We want desperately for this not to happen again,” he said.