Lawsuit claims teen abused, neglected at Tuskegee youth psychiatric facility

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 7:38 PM CST
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MACON COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - A lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Sequel Youth and Family Services, LLC in Macon County, Alabama Circuit Court, asserting claims of severe abuse and neglect of a 15-year-old boy at Sequel’s Tuskegee, Alabama facility.

The lawsuit was filed by Birmingham attorneys Tommy James of Tommy James Law and Jeremy Knowles of the Morris Haynes law firm. James says his client “feared for his life” when he was placed at the Sequel TIS of Tuskegee, a residential psychiatric facility, for two months in 2018. The lawsuit claims Sequel Tuskegee and other Sequel facilities are “houses of horror where staff members abuse and prey upon children.” The victim in this case alleges he was “choked, beaten, punched, slapped and slammed to the ground by employees and other residents” and received “multiple injuries while at Sequel Tuskegee.”

“He was 15-years-old. At the time of his admission, in his unit, all the other children there were 18 or 19. He feared every night to go to sleep because he was beaten on many of those nights by staff and some of the residents in his unit. The staff didn’t break up the fights. They would sometimes even encourage the fights, said Tommy James. “Some of the staff and other residents would literally hold him up against the wall and choke him till he passed out.”

There are also claims outlined in the lawsuit of a culture of violence, deplorable living conditions, and staff routinely using isolation rooms for “punishment.”

“My client would get in trouble, quote in trouble, and his punishment would be putting him in a segregation room, which is something you think you would hear about at a prison. One time he was placed there for an entire week. Two of those days, he didn’t have access to a restroom, he had to urinate in the corner. He had no food or water for those two days,” said James.

While the State of Alabama is not named in the suit, Sequel contracts with the Alabama Department of Youth Services and the Alabama Department of Human Resources to treat at-risk children. Sequel is a for-profit company that owns and operates facilities for juveniles at various locations throughout the U.S. According to the lawsuit, the state of Alabama pays Sequel approximately $330 per day to house each child at its facilities and has paid Sequel well over $30 million since 2018.

“The state’s got to do something because this should not be happening to our most vulnerable children. These are our most vulnerable children. We’re talking about foster children, we are talking about children who may have had a minor run-in with the law that were placed in these facilities. Sometimes they have nowhere to go. And they’re being treated worse than animals, said James. “These facilities, they are called psychiatric residential treatment facilities, the children are supposed to be there to receive the appropriate mental health care, and that’s not happening. Instead of receiving the care that they’re there to receive, the mental health treatment, they’re being treated worse than animals, and it’s just deplorable.”

James says Sequel facilities across the country have been under fire recently. James and Knowles in 2020 filed a lawsuit against Sequel’s Courtland facility in north Alabama on behalf of a 14-year-old boy. Just last month, another Sequel facility in North Alabama was cited for illegal restraints and the strangulation of a resident. An investigative report on Sequel Youth & Family Services was done by NBC Nightly News in 2020. James points out many states have revoked contracts with Sequel however, that’s not the case in Alabama.

“My client hopes this case will bring about change and accountability to Sequel. So it doesn’t happen to another child again,” said James. “The state needs to look at this hard, that these things are still happening. What happened to my client happened in 2018, he just turned 19 and able to file the suit on his own. But these things are still going on.”

WSFA 12 News reached out to Sequel TSI Tuskegee and the corporate Sequel offices for comment, but have not heard back.

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