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January 29, 2014

‘They just came in like snakes’: Federal complaint targets unjust jail terms in Clark County

Three drug treatment program participants involved in complaint

JEFFERSONVILLE — A Louisville attorney plans to file a civil compliant in a federal court on behalf of three Clark County Drug Court Treatment Program participants for unlawful incarceration and arrest.

Michael Augustus said he expects within the next week to file the complaint that could result in Clark County taxpayers paying out of pocket for a number of blunders that resulted in unjust jail sentences of two women and an unlawful arrest of another.

The women Augustus said he will represent in the claim are Destiny Hoffman, 34; Ashleigh Hendricks-Santiago, 30; and Amy Bennett, 36.

Hoffman was recently released from the jail after serving nearly five months on a 48-hour jail sanction. According to county documents, Hoffman was to be held until further notice from Judge Jerry Jacobi’s Clark County Circuit Court No. 2, but that notice was never given.

Augustus’ intent to file the civil claim is another black mark on the drug court program, which Jacobi oversees.

In October a private investigation was ordered to look into the arrest of a drug court participant at his place of work and a home visit to a participant’s residence. Both incidents were carried out by the then-drug court’s director Susan Knoebel and Jeremy Snelling, a bailiff in Jacobi’s court who also worked as a drug court program field officer.

Following the investigation, Jacobi suspended both Knoebel and Snelling Jan. 7, and terminated Knoebel’s employment earlier this week.

The Indiana State Police has an ongoing investigation of possible criminal activity of drug court personnel. The Office of the Clark County Prosecutor continues to review ISP investigative reports and is expected in the near future to make a determination if any criminal charges will be issued.

Hendricks-Santiago and Bennett on Wednesday expressed their frustration with the drug court program. Hoffman has not been reached for comment.

While upset with their treatment as participants, both women said the Clark County Drug Court Treatment Program can be a great resource to those suffering substance abuse, but that the program needs to be revamped and restructured.

“It is an awesome program, once it is coordinated correctly,” Hendricks-Santiago said. “I would recommend no one take drug court right now until it is changed, absolutely.”

‘I SAT FOR FOUR MONTHS’

Hendricks-Santiago said she was eager to enter the program in July 2012, and found success. Through her involvement, she was able to hold down a job and get her own apartment. She even moved into a larger apartment in preparation of having more time with her daughter.

The program turned sour for Hendricks-Santiago, however, after she was incarcerated for more than five than months on a six-day sentence.

She said she was ordered to jail on two 72-hour sanctions May 16, but remained in the facility until Oct. 25.

Hendricks-Santiago said her incarceration began after she and 15 other participants were ordered to the Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 for failed mouth-swab drug screens.

She said all in the group had tested positive for an over-the-counter herbal drink called Kradom — a substance she claims was not forbidden in the program’s handbook at the time.

“There were 16 of us, and they came in with a Jay-C or Kroger bag full of handcuffs and locked all 16 of us up,” Hendricks-Santiago said. “Everybody got 48-hour to 72-hour sanctions.”

She said the majority of the others in the group were released from the jail a short time later, but she remained behind bars.

“They just pretty much just forgot about me,” she said.

Hendricks-Santiago said when the synthetic drug Spice began to gain popularity in the area, participants were notified the substance was forbidden since it was not identified in the handbook, but no notification was given for using Kradom, “ ... with this, they just came in like snakes,” she said.

The second 72-hour sanction that originally caused Hendricks-Santiago’s incarceration resulted from her missing three classes at the Jeffersonville substance-abuse organization Centerstone, which she claims the director of had given her permission to miss for other engagements.

Hendricks-Santiago said she didn’t feel comfortable to dispute the sanction with all the other participants in court room at the time.

“I thought, OK, I’ll take the six days and get out and go about my business,’” she said. “But, I didn’t get out. I sat there for months without knowing anything.”

She said after serving six days in the jail, she gathered her belongs and expected to leave, but was told she was being held until a court appearance the following day.

“I went to court that Thursday. They looked at me and [Clark County Magistrate] Judge [William] Dawkins said, ‘We don’t know what we are going to do with you yet.’ That is all I was told,” Hendricks-Santiago said.

The incarceration resulted in Hendricks-Santiago losing her apartment in Clarksville where she was living before her May 16 incarceration.

She said the drug court program had been working for her, and because of her participation her life had gained the stability she hoped it would when she first became a participant.

“Things were looking up. I just made a mistake by drinking a tea. And you take it all away from me,” she said. “I really hope no other participant ever sits down there and goes through that.”

BENNETT’S STORY

Soon after entering the drug-court program in Sept. 2012, Bennett absconded for several months, which she says resulted in Snelling and Knoebel coming to her home minutes before midnight Aug. 10, 2013.

She said the two followed her into her driveway in a vehicle, and she was approached by Snelling, who carried a firearm and wore a badge.

“He got me out of my car, put handcuffs on me, [and] he told me I was under arrest by [Clark County] Circuit Court 2,” Bennett said. “After Jeremy [Snelling] arrested me, him and Susan [Knoebel] took me to jail, and I sat for four months. I don’t know why I sat so long.”

Bennett remained incarcerated until Dec. 12, 2013. She said was held on a warrant for petition to terminate her from the drug court program.

As drug court participants, both Bennett and Hendricks-Santiago were ordered live at the Louisville halfway home, Ladies of Promise, at the time of releases from the Clark County jail.

The women are required to call a drug court program hotline at 7:05 a.m. seven days a week, and are subjected to drug tests at the Clark County Probation Department in Jeffersonville, typically, two to three times a week.

Participants pay $500 to enter the program, $50 a month for service fees and a fee for each of the drug test administered. Hendricks-Santiago and Bennett also pay $80 a week to keep their residence at Ladies of Promise.

Even after Bennett’s arrest at her home by non law enforcement officials and Hendricks-Santiago’s long jail stint on a six-day sanction, they each can still see benefits of the program.

Bennett said the program is hard work, but it can help participants beat substance abuse, if they put in the effort.

“I did get structure. I got stability out of it, most definitely. I learned how to live life right,” Hendricks-Santiago said. “There are some positives that came out of this.”

Jacobi has not commented on matters pertaining to drug court. A court clerk said he would not comment because of an ongoing investigation.

 

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