Judge rejects defense motions in juvenile beating lawsuit

A federal judge on Thursday rejected motions to throw out part of a lawsuit filed against Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson and Roderick Shelby, the former chief of staff for Juvenile Judge Earnest Brown Jr.

A federal lawsuit was filed against Shelby after he allegedly beat Chadarious Avery, 14, while escorting Avery back to the juvenile detention center after an appearance in court on April 18, 2011. Robinson was added to the lawsuit later because the sheriff is in charge of the juvenile detention center. Avery’s attorney is arguing that Shelby’s actions were the result of him not being properly trained in handling juveniles.

Attorneys for Robinson and Shelby had asked federal judge Kristine Baker to dismiss Avery’s claims against them in their official capacities, and against Robinson in his personal capacity because they argue that he is entitled to qualified immunity.

In a 17-page opinion and order, Baker turned down the motions, saying “genuine issues of material fact remain on Mr. Avery’s failure-to-train claim regarding whether Jefferson County’s training policies or practices were inadequate, whether the county was deliberately indifferent to others’ rights in adopting such training policies or practices, or whether the alleged deficiencies actually caused Mr. Avery’s injuries.”

Baker said there is a factual dispute regarding the county’s lack of training probation officers with a juvenile course and jailers course, which were required of juvenile detention center employees, and which probation officers were not required to attend. That training course included handcuffing techniques, defensive tactics for situations in which a detainee becomes violent and other constitutional requirements. Additionally, probation officers were not given handcuffs or pepper spray like detention center officers.

Robinson acknowledged in his deposition that there was an increased risk when untrained individuals are dealing with juveniles “but said such risks would be minimized or reduced if someone untrained worked in conjunction with trained personnel.

“In addition, there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute regarding what training Mr. Shelby received in the use of excessive force, even at ALETA (Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy) and certainly after that during his employment with the sheriff’s department,” the ruling said.

Before going to work for Judge Brown, Shelby worked for the sheriff’s department and afterward, was a part-time deputy until he was fired by Robinson after the altercation with Avery and an internal investigation.

“Simply stated, the disparity in the training and equipment between probation officers and detention center employees creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Sheriff Robinson’s’s failure to require similar training of probation officers before allowing them to escort juvenile detainees amounts to deliberate indifference,” Baker said in the ruling. “Mr. Shelby did not have the training or equipment required of detention center employees, was well known to escort juvenile detainees, alone was escorting Mr. Avery, who was a juvenile detainee, and for purposes of this motion, admits the use of excessive force in the altercation with Mr. Avery.”

Regarding the rejection of Robinson’s claim that he should be dismissed in his personal capacity because of qualified immunity, Judge Baker said “whether a reasonable person in Sheriff Robinson’s position would have known that his training program or lack thereof was likely to result in Mr. Shelby’s actions present a genuine issue of material fact for the jury to decide.

“The Court cannot say, as a matter of law, that a reasonable person in Sheriff Robinson’s position would not have recognized that the disparity in training was likely to result in the type of excessive force at issue in the case,” Baker wrote in the ruling. “Indeed, the exact training that detention center employees were required to obtain but that probation officers were not required to obtain before escorting juvenile detainees appears on this record to address the precise factual scenario that gave rise to this lawsuit.”

The trial is currently scheduled for the week of Dec. 17 at the Federal Courthouse at Pine Bluff.