The U.S. Justice Department this week asked a judge to order Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale to comply with a subpoena for mental health records of jailed juveniles, and to allow investigators to interview those inmates.
A Jefferson County Sheriff's spokesman questioned the tactics the DOJ is using to get access to records and inmates. He also said the sheriff has complied with some of the requests.
U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala by early Friday night had not acted on the request Thursday by the DOJ to force Hale's compliance with the subpoena.
The subpoena is part of a DOJ investigation into how juveniles are being treated in the county jail.
"The Department is conducting its CRIPA (Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) investigation of the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for a legitimate purpose: to determine whether there are conditions that deprive detainees at the jail of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States," according to this week's motion by the DOJ.
"Specifically, the Department's investigation focuses 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," the DOJ motion states.
DOJ had begun the investigation last year and had submitted a subpoena to the sheriff at that time. But Hale did not comply with the subpoena.
After notifying Sheriff Hale of this investigation, DOJ attorneys met in person with the Sheriff and his counsel on June 24, 2015, according to the motion. "During an initial onsite tour of the jail later that day, the Department requested mental health records. (and) Sheriff Hale's counsel refused to provide them, stating that mental health records are privileged from disclosure under Alabama law," the motion states.
"The Department also sought to interview juveniles in the housing units at the Jail," the motion states. "Sheriff Hale's counsel at first requested to sit in on these interviews. When the Department declined this request, Sheriff Hale's counsel objected to any contact between the Department and juvenile detainees without written authorization from their parents or attorneys."
The DOJ stated it immediately produced written authorization it had obtained from counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center — which represents several juveniles regarding their conditions of confinement at the jail—to interview their clients, according to the motion. "Yet, Sheriff Hale's counsel rejected this written authorization as insufficient and ended the tour" and the Sheriff's attorney told DOJ attorneys to leave the jail immediately.
After that tour, DOJ sent several letters and had a teleconference with Sheriff Hale's counsel explaining the basis of the Department's authority under the CRIPA to access the jail, interview juvenile as well as adult detainees, and obtain any documents necessary for the investigation, providing supporting legal citations of authority.
"On July 30, 2015, the Sheriff responded to the Department's document request, stating that the Sheriff's Office would not allow the Department or its agents access to interview juveniles at the jail absent written parental or criminal defense attorney authorization," according to the motion.
"Sheriff Hale's Office has thus made it clear that, in order to comply with the Department's request for mental health records or allow the requested access to interview juvenile detainees, it requires a court order to that effect," according to the motion to Haikala.
After Hale's response the DOJ's Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General issued another subpoena on April 13 of this year.
Hale, however, failed to produce all of the requested mental health documents, objecting on the basis of the patient-psychiatric privilege, the DOJ motion states. The sheriff also maintains that DOJ will be prohibited from interviewing any detainee under 19 years of age without presenting written authorization from his/her parent or attorney.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Randy Christian responded to the court filing Friday evening.
"Our stance was they are adjudicated as adults criminally but for all other intents they are still juveniles," Christian told AL.com. "We asked them to get consent from parents for the release of mental health records and we would be happy to give them to them. That wasn't good enough so we said see you in court."
"We believe the DOJ who professes to have these Juveniles interest are themselves violating the rights of these juveniles without consent from their parents or guardians," Christian stated. "They want us to release their medical and mental health records without consent of a parent, guardian or attorney. I'm wondering if we are still in America."
Christian also stated that the sheriff has complied with some of the requests for the DOJ's investigation.
"We've turned over thousands of pages of documents, allowed the DOJ to tour the Jail 3 times, allowed the DOJ to interview staff, and allowed them to interview inmates," Christian stated.
"We asked them to get the attorneys' or parents permission to interview inmates under 19 because they're not adults (under civil law) and can't give legally binding permission," Christian stated. "The DOJ then went and got that permission and we let them interview the inmates. We asked them to get the same consent on the release of mental and medical health records and apparently they didn't like that. We thought that was not only reasonable but we believe it is the law. You report civil rights violations to the department of justice right?"