Tennessee illegally jailed minors elligble for settlement
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — About 1,450 people jailed illegally as minors in Tennessee can claim part of a $11 million class-action settlement, but fewer than 200 people have filed eligible claims, the Daily News Journal reported.
The lawsuit revealed the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center regularly locked up children for misdemeanor charges, including truancy, school fights and disobeying parents, plaintiffs’ attorney Kyle Mothershead said. The suit started by challenging the incarceration of children arrested at Hobgood Elementary School in Murfreesboro before expanding to include other youth jailed at the detention center on minor charges.
Tennessee law strictly prohibits the pretrial incarceration of children unless they are charged with a violent felony, a weapons offense, or a probation violation, according to the complaint filed in July 2017.
Under the terms of a June 2021 settlement, eligible plaintiffs will receive $4,800 per each illegal incarceration and $1,000 per arrest.
The original plaintiffs will receive a larger settlement. They include Kazmere Watts, who will receive about $31,000 after he was incarcerated for seven days for a school fight. He punched another student but that student wasn’t seriously injured.
“That was the first time I ever got into trouble,” said Watts, who was a freshman at Oakland High School in 2014. “I wasn’t trying to hurt him. You’re a kid. You do foolish stuff.”
In June, Nashville Chief U.S. District Court Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. issued a preliminary injunction ending Rutherford County’s policy of incarcerating youths on misdemeanor charges. The county of more than 340,000 people sprawls to the southeast of Nashville and has Murfreesboro as its seat.
“Rutherford County should never have arrested (Watts),” Crenshaw wrote. “The juveniles that are arrested in Rutherford County are being deprived of their procedural due process rights, which is unquestionably irreparable harm.”
Elligible plaintiffs must file their claims by Oct. 29, or they won’t receive a share of the settlement. Because of the statute of limitations, only those born on or after Oct. 14, 1997, qualify.
“Thousands of children were illegally incarcerated under this regime,” said Mothershead. He added that county officials in 2004 ignored a consulting firm’s advice that the juvenile detention center was locking up too many children.
More information about the settlement is available on the claims administrator website at www.rutherfordjuvenilesettlement.com.