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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

DOJ Seeks Court Order in Ala. Jail Inquiry

(CN) — The Justice Department has filed a petition to compel an Alabama sheriff to comply with a subpoena in an investigation into the treatment of juveniles at the Jefferson County Jail.

As recounted in the Nov. 3 petition, Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale was served with an administrative subpoena on April 13, 2016, in connection with an ongoing civil rights investigation.

That inquiry, opened in June 2015, is focused on "allegations that juveniles detained at the Jefferson County Jail are placed in cells with adult detainees, putting them at risk of sexual abuse and other physical violence, or in repeated and prolonged lockdown, exposing juveniles to a significant risk of serious psychological harm, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments."

According to the DOJ, it issued the subpoena after Hale refused to provide the department with mental health records or allow investigators to interview juvenile inmates.

According to the petition, Hale failed to comply with the subpoena itself, "objecting on the basis of the patient-psychiatric privilege."

"Sheriff Hale also maintained that the Department will be prohibited from interviewing any detainee under 19 years of age without presenting written authorization from his/her parent or attorney," the petition stated.

The department asked the court to issue an order directing the sheriff "to show cause why he should not comply with and obey" the subpoena.

It also seeks an order directing him to produce the mental health records of the juvenile inmates and allowing DOJ personnel to interview juvenile detainees "about the conditions of their confinement at the Jefferson County Jail without producing prior written parental or criminal defense counsel authorization."

According to the department, the subpoena was served pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which "authorizes the Attorney General to investigate conditions of confinement in correctional facilities."

The petition to enforce the subpoena was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama Middle Division.

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