Alabama Department of Human Resources commissioner Nancy Buckner and Alabama Department of Education Superintendent Eric Mackey were recently named in several lawsuits claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in residential treatment facilities.
Six federal lawsuits were filed yesterday on behalf of children placed in residential treatment facilities in Alabama. The lawsuits allege children with disabilities in these facilities are discriminated against by segregating them in on-site schools. The suit claims disabled students were "deprived of meaningful interaction with their non-disabled peers, and they also receive inferior instruction, limited resources, and inadequate support."
Birmingham attorneys Tommy James and Jeremy Knowles and Florida attorney Caleb Cunningham represent the plaintiffs in the case, as they do in several cases involving alleged abuse in the same facilities in Alabama.
"We have filed these lawsuits not only for our clients but for every child in the state who has been robbed of the education they deserve," Cunningham said. "Our goal is to shine a spotlight on this blatant discrimination and to ensure it does not continue. We are committed to fighting for the rights of children with disabilities and ensuring they have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers."
The attorneys also filed suit against Brighter Path Tuskegee, previously known as Sequel Tuskegee, its executive director and others, bringing allegations of continued physical abuse and neglect of a 15-year-old boy at the youth residential facility.
The lawsuit alleges the boy endured physical, verbal and emotional abuse by staff and residents. It also claims the child constantly feared for his safety and was exposed to unsanitary conditions, including bedbug bites.
In September 2022, the mother of 15-year-old Connor Bennet sued Brighter Path Tuskegee after Connor hanged himself while residing at the facility in April 2022. Bennet claimed to have suffered continued sexual and physical abuse before his suicide.
Many of the suits also name Brighter Path's parent company, Sequel Youth & Family Services, LLC, and many of its similarly named LLCs and partner companies. Sequel is a privately owned for-profit corporation incorporated in Delaware, with its principal place of business in Huntsville.
The Owens Cross Roads location of Brighter Path is dealing with a lawsuit in which a minor, described only as J.K., claims she was punched and suffered a broken right jaw with severe bruising to her face and ribs, which resulted in her jaw being wired shut for two months. The assault allegedly occurred after the unnamed minor reached a breaking point with maltreatment from staff, finally calling 911 and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.
"During her time at the facility, J. K. suffered significant and continuous physical, verbal and/or emotional abuse and/or neglect as separate acts on separate occasions, defendants employed aggressive and abusive policies at the facility that ignored the health and safety of the children, including J. K," the complaint read.
"J. K. was assaulted, wrongfully restrained, abused, neglected or negligently or wantonly injured by the facility staff at separate times, at separate locations, and under separate circumstances," it added. "Numerous staff was informed of and/or had knowledge that J.K. was being assaulted, wrongfully restrained, abused, neglected or negligently or wantonly injured on separate occasions at separate locations by separate individuals but chose to do absolutely nothing to prevent the abuse and/or neglect nor report it pursuant to their legal obligations."
The complaint is filled with accusations of various forms of physical violence against residents by the staff.
According to the lawsuit, during a restraint, a male staff member told a girl, "I don't give a [f**k], tell your social worker. What's she gonna do?"
Girls who attempted suicide in the facility also reported they were told by one or more staff that they should try again.
One complaint is from a nearby resident of the Tuskegee location. The resident filed a suit against Brighter Path, claiming her property "was and is overrun by escapees from the facility."
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