Attorneys for the Children’s Law Center filed a federal civil rights case on behalf of youth in Hamilton County, Ohio, who are arrested and detained without regard for basic due process rights. The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati on November 24th, 2014 alleges that juvenile court judge John Williams, in his administrative capacity, perpetuates policies and practices which fail to require probable cause before warrants are executed, or at detention hearings. The result, the complaint alleges, creates harm to youth who are arrested and incarcerated, disrupting their school, employment and family life unnecessarily, and violates their rights under the United States Constitution. More than 6000 youth were arrested and processed through the detention center in Hamilton County last year; of this number, African American youth were almost ten times more likely to experience arrest, and more than twice as likely to be detained. Also named in the complaint is Dwayne Bowman, director of the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center, and Hamilton County. The case seeks a preliminary injunction to force officials to comply with constitutional requirements in issuing warrants and in making probable cause determinations for youth once detained.
Hamilton County Juvenile Court officials agreed to make substantive changes to their policies and practices to ensure an adequate finding of probable cause to arrest before sending a youth to detention.
The policy changes were part of a settlement of a lawsuit the Children’s Law Center brought against Hamilton County officials and Judge John Williams. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott agreed to dismiss the lawsuit at the request of both parties.
The federal civil rights case, filed in 2014 by attorneys from the Children’s Law Center (CLC) and attorney Jennifer Kinsley, charged that youth were routinely arrested and detained without sufficient findings of probable cause in violation of their due process rights. The parties agreed to dismiss this case after court officials put into place several Juvenile Court policies and practices related to processing complaints, issuing arrest warrants, making probable cause determinations and conducting detention hearings.
The new policies the Hamilton County Juvenile Court officials have adopted include several measures that will ensure protections for the youths in the arrest and intake process. These include:
- Updated detention center policies and procedures related to complaint and warrant processing.
- Revised training protocols and curriculum for intake clerks on the issuance of warrants, filing of complaints and probable cause determinations.
- Revised positions descriptions and expectations for intake clerks and the deputy chief clerk, and increased salaries to reflect the need for the discretion, judgment and decision-making skills required.
- Creation of a duty magistrate rotation for on-call consultation 24 hours a day.
- Establishment of a process to assign an assistant prosecutor at all detention hearings.
- Collaboration and training with local police departments regarding expectations of the Youth Center and court as to the acceptance and processing of complaints and warrants.
The court also proposed a local amendment to the Rules of Practice for the Hamilton County Juvenile Court to reflect the changes required for warrants, intakes, and detention hearings.