On June 5, United States Magistrate Judge Harwell G. Davis III ordered Coosa Valley Youth Services to send him “any and all juvenile records” related to its custody over the 15-year-old Anniston boy who is the plaintiff in the suit.
The lawsuit against Amerson and Deputy Wendell Ward is expected to go to jury trial next month, court records show, although Judge Robert Propst, the presiding federal judge in the case, hasn’t yet set an exact date for the trial’s start.
Anniston resident Stacy Brown filed suit in April 2011, alleging the sheriff and deputy physically and verbally abused her then 14-year-old son when he spent a day in a Calhoun County Jail program for teens.
A surveillance video clip from that day shows Amerson using manual force against the boy, identified only as “J.B.” in the suit, while he is shackled, handcuffed and dressed in an inmate jumpsuit.
The suit alleges that J.B. was transferred to Coosa Valley Youth Services on Feb. 4, 2011, after suffering physical and emotional abuse that day at the jail.
While J.B. was at Coosa Valley, detention officials took pictures of injuries he had allegedly received and interviewed him about his interactions with the sheriff and Ward, according to lawsuit.
Now, the U.S. magistrate judge is privately reviewing those photographs, interviews and other materials to determine whether they should be released under subpoena for defense attorneys to use as part of their arguments against J.B.
Although Alabama law in most cases prohibits disclosure of juvenile court records to ensure mistakes made as a kid don’t follow a person into adulthood, the judge notes in his order the law “does permit limited access to a juvenile’s records under certain circumstances, after court review to ensure disclosure of only those records relevant and necessary to a case or defense.”
Two months ago, defense attorneys for Amerson and Ward filed a motion to subpoena records about J.B.’s custody at Coosa Valley. The subpoena requested the juvenile detention center to hand over all relevant documents, including “all letters, criminal histories, investigative reports, summaries of interviews, interviews, written statements, recorded statements, disciplinary reports, records of interviews, records of treatments, memoranda, progress notes, opinions, conclusions, office notes, handwritten notes, bills, supervisory reports and notes, discharge reports, and other written material.”
But attorneys for J.B. and his mother quickly opposed the subpoena request, saying the release of such documents would infringe upon J.B’s rights to anonymity as a juvenile in the court system.
“Defendants’ subpoena violates J.B.’s privacy rights and, furthermore, seeks to harass and oppress J.B.,” the opposition motion, filed April 25, reads.
On May 15, Propst, the federal judge in charge of the entire case, referred the subpoena issue to Davis, the U.S. magistrate judge, for consideration and a ruling, online court records show.
Last week, Davis issued his order that he would first collect and privately review the information from Coosa Valley before making a decision about whether to release it to defense attorneys.
If he decides in favor of releasing some or all documents, Davis said in his order, those materials will be “subject to an appropriate confidentiality and protective order.”
Throughout the suit, attorneys for Amerson and Ward have denied the civil rights allegations, filing motions for dismissal and, most recently, a pile of 33 legal documents as evidence in support of their most recent claim the suit should be summarily dismissed before it goes to trial.
Reached Monday, defense attorney J. Randall McNeill declined to comment on the open case other than to say a pretrial conference between himself, the judge and plaintiff’s attorneys would happen on July 26. Officials will determine an exact date for the trial’s start at that meeting, McNeill said.
Attempts Monday to reach plaintiff’s attorneys were unsuccessful.
Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.