News and Tribune

February 19, 2014

10 Clark County employees named in civil complaint

Attorney seeks punitive damages; Judge Jacobi has immunity


NEW ALBANY — Weeks after allegations of misconduct surfaced against Clark County Drug Treatment Court officials, a class action complaint was filed Tuesday in federal court naming 10 Clark County employees as defendants.

Among the defendants listed in the complaint filed by Louisville attorney Mike Augustus are Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 Judge Jerry Jacobi, whose court oversees the drug treatment program, former program director Susan Knoebel and suspended bailiff Jeremy Snelling.

Augustus filed the complaint in a Southern District of Indiana federal court in New Albany on behalf of several drug court participants and at least one person in a county work release program who are claming mistreatment. They include Destiny Hoffman, who was released from Clark County jail last month after serving a nearly five-month jail sentence on an original two-day sanction related to drug court.

The Clark County Drug Program was suspended Wednesday by the Indiana Judicial Center, which referenced the above accusations. In a matter unrelated to Augustus’ civil complaint, a special prosecutor in Jefferson County, Ind., has been designated to review possible criminal charges involving drug court personnel stemming from an Indiana State Police investigation.

At issue in the 46-page complaint, which also lists several “unknown Clark County” employees, are claims the plaintiffs had a range of their constitutional rights violated, resulting primarily from unlawful arrests and extended terms of incarceration in the Clark County jail without being brought before a judge and provided legal counsel.

The complaint also names Henry Ford, Clark County chief probation officer, and Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden as defendants.

Rodden said he was unfamiliar with the lawsuit.

“I don’t think the sheriff’s office has any responsibility, from what I know,” Rodden said. “I don’t know what they’re saying we did. But so far, everything I’ve seen, all of our records say that the court gave us orders to keep them here at the jail.”

According to the complaint, “ ... these government actors knowingly deprived multiple probationers and Drug Court participants of their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution ...” and “ ... this pattern of unlawful and unconstitutional conduct was so flagrant, so egregious, and so customary that declamatory and injunctive relief is necessary to protect the rights of plaintiffs as well as all other citizens of Clark County.”

Knoebel was terminated as director last month, and Snelling is a former drug court program field officer who was placed on unpaid leave Jan. 7.

Augustus is claiming Hoffman was held for 154 days on a 48-hour sanction following a failed drug screen, and during her incarceration she was never brought before a judge, a violation of her right to due process.

“During this unconstitutional incarceration, Ms. Hoffman wrote multiple letters to Drug Court personnel and repeatedly questioned jail deputies about the status of her incarceration without benefit of counsel,” according to the complaint.

The complaint includes another client, drug court participant Nathan Clifford, who was jailed for 104 days, and like Hoffman, held “ ... without hearing the evidence against him or the right to confront and cross examine, consideration of bail, appointment of counsel, written notice of the violations he was found to have committed or alleged against him, or any due process consideration, and despite the fact that his sanction only called for a 48-hour detention.”

Augustus’ client Joshua Foley, according to the complaint, was held for 68 days in 2013 after a third failed drug test, but he had been sanctioned to only 30 days in jail with a hold pending placement into a halfway house. He was also held without a hearing.

Augustus claims Amy Bennett was arrested by Snelling and Knoebel at her home — an incident that involved Snelling raising his firearm at her boyfriend who was present during the arrest.

“Pursuant to Indiana state law, neither Ms. Knoebel, as a probation officer, nor Mr. Snelling, as a court bailiff, have arrest powers,” Augustus claims.

The defendants

Here is a breakdown of key defendants in Augustus’ complaint:


• Augustus has said Jacobi has judicial immunity that exempts him from punitive damages. While Jacobi will not face a monetary penalty, Augustus intends for the complaint to result in a federal judge issuing a declaratory judgment that would show Jacobi’s actions have been unconstitutional.

“Judge Jacobi is sued herein for the sole purpose of obtaining a declaration that all current and future Clark County Drug Treatment Court participants and probationers have a constitutional right to be free from incarceration without due process of law and that Judge Jacobi’s current policies, practices and customs are in violation of those constitutional rights,” according to the complaint.

Jacobi has stated he will not provide public comment on drug court. A phone call to his court Wednesday requesting comment was not returned before press time.


• The complaint claims Knoebel, Snelling and Ford are liable because each was directly responsible for the due process violations of the plaintiffs.


• Rodden is liable, Augustus claims, because he is responsible for the management of the Clark County jail and the care and custody of  inmates in the facility. According the to complaint, Rodden failed to notify court officials of lengthy incarcerations, resulting in “constitutional deprivations.”

Rodden said he’s obligated by statute to follow orders of the courts. Each of the judges, the prosecutor’s office and the public defender’s office were provided with weekly reports that listed the inmates in the jail. The judges were provided with inmates facing charges within their courts, while the prosecutor and public defender received complete lists, Rodden said.

“It shows everybody that’s in the jail,” Rodden said.

Rodden said he receives letters from inmates that contain a inquiries about the disposition of cases.

“For the most part, the inmates don’t tell you the whole truth,” Rodden said. “They’ll tell you one part of their problem, but they’ll leave out two or three others.”


• Clark County Commissioners Jack Coffman, Rick Stephenson and John Perkins are liable as a executive branch of the county, Augustus claims.

“Clark County Commissioners implemented or executed policies, practices and customs of Clark County which were unconstitutional, and the body was ‘deliberately indifferent’ to the constitutional rights of the Plaintiffs ... ,” according to the complaint.

Jacob Elder, attorney for the commissioners, is not a defendant in the civil complaint, but he provided a comment Wednesday on behalf of the commissioners.

Elder said he expected the commissioners to be named in the complaint, but he does not believe they are culpable in the alleged mistreatment of the complaint’s plaintiffs.

“They are the executive branch of the Clark County government, and, normally, when there are lawsuits against a municipality, the executive branch is often named,” Elder said.

Staff reporter Matt Koesters contributed to this report.