Lawsuit filed over teen’s death at Tuskegee youth facility

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 4:16 PM CDT
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TUSKEGEE, Ala. (WSFA) - A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against a youth residential facility in Tuskegee. That suit alleges physical and sexual abuse led to a teen’s suicide.

The lawsuit stems from the death of 15-year-old Connor Bennett, who lived at Brighter Path Tuskegee, formerly called Sequel, for almost six months before committing suicide in April. The lawsuit claims Bennett’s death resulted from the staff’s failure to supervise residents, and staff ignoring numerous complaints of abuse, as well as failing to stop the abuse.

“Connor was at this facility, and it was a living nightmare for him. It was literally a house of horrors. The kind of pain he was going through. He was being brutalized there, he was being physically abused by other residents, sexually abused by other residents. And this wasn’t going unnoticed by the staff,” said Tommy James, the attorney representing Connor’s mother.

James said they have at least three witnesses who will say Connor complained to staff and supervisors about the abuse but nothing was done about it. He said other boys at Brighter Path Tuskegee also told staff and authorities about Connor’s abuse, but to no avail.

James, of the Birmingham firm Tommy James Law, filed the suit with Jeremy Knowles of the Morris Haynes law firm. This is not their only pending lawsuit against Sequel.

“It shouldn’t surprise me based on Sequel’s history and this facility’s history. I got three other cases pending against them right now at that very same facility and several other ones across the state, and other Sequel facilities. And all my clients will testify that these places are living hell,” said James.

James said the Sequel has denied any wrongdoing in their other pending cases, but they were not aware of this latest one until Wednesday’s filing and have not yet responded to it.

According to the lawsuit, the Department of Human Resources took Connor into custody in September 2021 due to “behavioral issues,” placing him in the facility on Oct. 5, 2021.

Connor’s family and their attorneys released his photo to the media when discussing the lawsuit.

During his time at the facility, James said Connor was not only bullied and assaulted by other residents, but that staff “constantly cursed at and mistreated” him.

According to James, Sequel rebranded as Brighter Path during Connor’s time there following reports of abuse scandals and media attention across the state and country. 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.

James says the Tuskegee facility and facilities like it are a part of the “troubled teen industry,” a multibillion-dollar network of for-profit youth residential facilities where widespread abuse and neglect have been revealed.

While the state of Alabama is not named in the suit, Brighter Path contracts with the Alabama Department of Youth Services and the Alabama Department of Human Resources to treat at-risk children.

Brighter Path is a for-profit company that owns and operates facilities for juveniles at various locations throughout the U.S.

WSFA 12 News have reached out to Brighter Path Tuskegee for comment but has not heard back.

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