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Clark County Drug Court ‘ran roughshod,’ but litigants lose appeal

July 3, 2018

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday found litigants in Clark County’s troubled drug court endured significant deprivations of their constitutional rights — including sometimes being jailed for months without due process — but offered no relief in the appeal of their dismissed civil lawsuit.

Wrongful detentions at the Clark County Jail became international news in 2014, when prosecutors discovered numerous participants in the county’s drug court program had been illegally arrested and jailed. In the instant case of lead plaintiff Destiny Hoffman, she spent five months in jail for providing a diluted drug screen without ever seeing a judge. A report later found the program had wrongly jailed 63 people.

Former Judge Jerome Jacobi, who oversaw Clark County’s troubled drug court during the time at issue, had been dismissed from this litigation. Jacobi was defeated in a May 2014 primary election.

“Under the stewardship of Judge Jerome Jacobi, the court ran roughshod over the rights of its participants, who frequently languished in jail for weeks and even months without justification,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote. “The jail stays imposed as ‘sanctions’ for noncompliance with program conditions were arbitrary and issued without due process.

“… While we have no doubt that the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were violated, the question is whether these defendants were personally responsible for the systemic breakdown,” Wood wrote Tuesday for the 7th Circuit panel in Destiny Hoffman, et al. v. Susan Knoebel, et al., 17-2750. “Plaintiffs have failed to make that showing, and so the district court’s judgment dismissing the action must be affirmed.”

Along with Wood, the panel included Indiana Circuit Judges David Hamilton and Amy Coney Barrett, a leading contender for President Donald Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States. The panel affirmed an August 2017 ruling by Southern District of Indiana Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker dismissing the remaining 17 plaintiffs’ proposed class action naming Susan Knoebel, a former drug court director, two of her subordinates and former Sheriff Danny Rodden.

The Clark County Drug Court under Jacobi was suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court after its abuses came to light. A new Clark County Drug Court was instituted under Judge Vicki Carmichael.

The 7th Circuit panel found no grounds to reinstate the suit against the defendants who wrongfully exercised police powers, raided homes, made impermissible “arrests” and detained drug court participants without due process.

“Hoffman and (plaintiff Jason) O’Connor have not told us why any part the defendants played in this unfortunate tale was so egregious that it violated their due process rights. They cannot mean that every bureaucratic slip creates a constitutional violation,” Wrote.

“… We have no doubt that the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were violated during their time as participants in the Clark County DTC. But that is not the question before us,” the chief judge continued. “It is whether any of the four defendants can be held liable for those constitutional injuries. The plaintiffs cannot overcome the barriers to recovery against these four defendants.”

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