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Drug Court Called a Bastion of Abuse

(CN) - A group of criminal defendants undergoing mandatory drug testing in an Alabama court have been subjected to a variety of harassing behaviors, including extortion, assault and even sodomy, they claim in federal court.

The victims filed suit this week in the Birmingham, Ala. Federal Court against Cullman County Court Referral LLC and Cullman County Drug Court, claiming a number of civil rights violations including malicious abuse of process and denial of equal protection.

Other defendants in the case included Lisa Sharpton, Cynthia Keller and Winfred Vance Jr., individually and as members, principals, officers and agents of Cullman County Court Referral. According to the complaint, Sharpton and Keller both own and manage Cullman County Court Referral.

The victims, who allege they've been "subjected to drug treatment, assessment, and monitoring pursuant to a court order," also claim assault, sexual battery, conspiracy, outrage, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment.

The Jan. 20 complaint says Vance is currently incarcerated and under indictment "as a result of sexual assault of some of the named plaintiffs."

Cullman County Court Referral is a for-profit business that does drug testing "through hair follicle testing and urinalysis under the direction of the Drug Court of Cullman County," the complaint says

Its agents are in a powerful position relative to its clients, as they can have a "pivotal effect upon whether a party in the case is incarcerated, receives probation, has their probation revoked, and whether a party is compliant with Court Orders." Those orders can impact critical issues like custody, dependency, visitation, parental rights and juvenile delinquency.

The plaintiffs claim they were subjected to extortion and coercion over the course of several months in 2014, specifically "at the hands of Defendant Winfred Eugene Vance, Jr. and other unnamed and unknown court referral officers and employees."

Vance performed drug testing and reported the results to the Cullman County District Court. The complaint accuses him of a litany of misdeeds towards clients, ranging from sexual harassment and sodomy to domestic violence and assault.

The other defendants in the case allegedly failed to intervene on behalf of the clients, however.

"Defendants Keller, Sharpton, and the Cullman County Drug Court received actual notice from various sources, or reasonably should have known that the foregoing was occurring, and still failed to take appropriate actions," the complaint says.

Plaintiffs say the defendants failed to implement policies to protect the clients of defendant Cullman County Court Referral from sexual harassment, in violation of their civil rights.

The victims claim that failure "amounts to a deliberate indifference to the civil rights and liberties of the plaintiffs."

The plaintiffs are represented by Tommy Drake and Melvin Hasting of Cullman, Ala.

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