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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Abuse Called Rampant in State Drug Program

CULLMAN, Ala. (CN) - Officers and administrators of a court-mandated drug testing program in Alabama routinely subject participants to sexual and other abuse, a lawsuit filed in state court claims.

The group of anonymous plaintiffs sued Cullman County, Ala.'s drug court, Cullman County Court Referral LLC and various officers and administrators in county court. The plaintiffs also name all other Alabama drug courts as defendants.

The plaintiffs are mostly indigents who are under court-ordered drug assessment. The say employees of the county's court referral office extorted and coerced them, and carried out sexual abuse.

"Over the course of several months in 2014, the listed plaintiffs and clients of C.R.O. were subjected to sexual advances, sexual harassment, assault, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, sodomy, scorn, humiliation, threats, domestic violence, at the hands of defendant Winfred Eugene Vance, Jr. with the defendant Cullman County Drug Court having knowledge and/or having reason to know that these occurred," their complaint states.

CRO officers perform hair follicle and urinalysis drug testing, and provide evidence to courts that impacts decisions involving probation and parental custody. Vance was the liaison between Cullman County Court Referral LLC and the county drug court.

The sexual abuse often came as a consequence for not paying court fees, according to the lawsuit.

"Defendants used their positions of power and authority to extort money from indigent clients by threats of incarceration and false reporting and intimidation if fees were not paid and sexual crimes were not allowed," the complaint states.

The alleged victims sue for a myriad of counts including civil rights violations, negligence, assault, extortion, sexual abuse, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, infliction of emotional distress, and more.

"Defendants violated the client's civil rights and protections under the Constitution of the United States and the State of Alabama when they failed to remedy and/or protect them from extortion, coercion, discrimination against the poor, sexual abuse/harassment/misconduct and other sexual crimes and assault," according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs seek $26 million in punitive damages. They are represented by Thomas Drake in Cullman, Ala.

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