Plaintiff describes high fees and poor treatment


EVANSVILLE — While William Huggins served his ABK Tracking-supervised electronic house arrest sentence, he paid them almost the same amount in fees each month as the cost of his rent.

Unable to work due to a back injury and with his wife working part-time at a local plastics company, Huggins’ family struggled while he served probation on drug-related charges in Vanderburgh County.

Huggins detailed those issues and his alleged mistreatment by ABK employees in five pages of testimony for a class action lawsuit filed Tuesday against the private Evansville company, Vanderburgh County and Circuit Court Judge David Kiely, which oversees the courts’ probation service.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of conspiring to “extort” money from the county’s poorest residents and creating what the lawsuit calls a “debtors’ jail” for those who cannot pay high fees.

After:Lawsuit accuses ABK, Vanderburgh County, of creating a ‘debtors’ prison’, benefiting the poor

“I couldn’t pay ABK’s fees for electronic house arrest, but I paid what I could because I didn’t want to go back to jail,” Huggins said in a written statement. “I did everything I could to find the money, even borrowing from my adult children, which was humiliating.”

High cost of drug testing, monitoring via ABK Tracking

Beginning in October 2021, the Courier & Press published several investigative articles on how the arrangement between ABK and the courts led to probation violations and jail time for those who cannot pay the high cost of their fees. The articles were cited in the lawsuit.

The articles reported a no-bid, no-contract agreement between ABK and the county that often requires enrollees to pay more than twice as much for court-ordered drug testing and electronic monitoring as other programs. county courts.

Jeremy Schnepper, an Evansville attorney and the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law, filed the 45-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday on behalf of plaintiffs Huggins and Hobert Keith Miller, as well as others who have been or will be invoiced by ABK.

After:Lawsuit accuses ABK, Vanderburgh County, of creating a ‘debtors’ prison’, benefiting the poor

“The response has been great. There’s been an outpouring of support,” Schnepper said. “I want to be clear, though: This isn’t calling anyone’s jobs. We just want change.”

Huggins and Miller shared the stories of their interactions with ABK and Vanderburgh County courts in statements made under penalty of perjury that were filed with the lawsuit.

Miller has been under pretrial surveillance since June while his household battery case continues in Vanderburgh Circuit Court.

“Even though I was not charged with an alcohol or drug offence, my judge (Magistrate Celia Pauli) put me on AAPS (Alcohol Abuse Probation Services). not mentioned that AAPS was going to cost money, even though I qualified for a public defender,” Miller said.

The Courier and the press contacted ABK, Kiely and the county about the lawsuit, but received no comment.

How did Vanderburgh County respond to the ABK lawsuit?

The response from county officials was also silent.

Vanderburgh County commissioners had little reaction to the lawsuit. Ben Shoulders said he hadn’t read it Wednesday morning and was in the hands of the “county legal department.” Cheryl Musgrave said county commissioners’ attorney David Jones told her to defer any questions about the trial to him as it is an “ongoing matter”.

” I am replying to you. But my response is that the county attorney advised me to ask him to direct your questions to him,” she said.

Jeff Hatfield, meanwhile, said he had read the Courier & Press story but had not had a chance to review the lawsuit or speak with Jones. He said if he had a comment, he would share it after reading the costume.

Meanwhile, only two of seven members of Vanderburgh County Council responded to the Courier & Press when asked about the lawsuit. Council member Jill Hahn said she was aware the lawsuit had been filed but knew nothing more.

Longtime board member James Raben expressed his support for Kiely.

“I can’t really say anything about it because it’s just something that never really crosses our minds. But I will say this, I’m working with Justice Kiely on budgeting for the ordinary courts and their staff,” he said. said. “He always seemed like a very conscientious and extremely trustworthy person. I have every confidence in the world that if there’s been any wrongdoing he’ll get to the bottom of it and fix it.”

No alternative to ABK services

Huggins said following his arrest in April 2021, he was placed on remand supervision for about a year under the direction of a county probation officer. Meanwhile, Huggins said he has to take a drug test at ABK Tracking once a week. The cost was $30 per test, or $120 per month. He also paid the county a monthly pretrial supervision fee of $60.

Things went well until February of this year, when Superior Court Judge Robert Pigman sentenced him to 600 days, suspended to 300 days of electronic house arrest (house arrest plus electronic monitoring) via ABK.

“I was not given any credit for the ABK fees I had already paid during pre-trial surveillance. Judge Pigman asked me if I could afford electronic house arrest, although he did not “didn’t explain the costs. I felt compelled to say yes because the alternatives – either jail or release from work, where you are in jail (jail) except when you go to work – would have been devastating to my family” , Huggins said in the lawsuit.

Huggins explained that two of his six children still live at home and he takes care of them while his wife is at work. Incarceration, he said, would be a hardship for his family.

“I didn’t know how I was going to afford home electronic attention, but I knew the alternative was certain financial ruin,” he said.

However, house arrest with ABK soon became a financial hardship as well, he said. Huggins had to pay an installation fee of $300 plus an ongoing fee of $112 per week and $35 once or twice a week.

The whole thing amounted to an average of $600 per month. By comparison, his rent was $675. And the costs were in addition to utilities, insurance, food, gas, children’s expenses and other costs.

The ABK Tracking office on Vogel Road in Evansville.

Huggins said when she first met ABK, an employee told her “she wasn’t bound by the same laws as a regular probation officer and she could test for drugs every day if she wanted to.” wanted to”.

Payments for drug tests had to be paid in cash, but a bank account for automatic withdrawals was required for electronic monitoring fees, and people who wanted to pay cash had to pay a $35 “processing fee.” for each payment, Huggins said.

“ABK does not allow me to test the drug if I don’t have the money. I am not allowed to test the drug even if I have the money, but not the full amount. On one occasion, the ABK agents (employees) refused to let me take a drug test because I was missing $5,” Huggins said.

“Every time I walk into ABK’s office, I have to scan my fingerprints as proof that I was there. If I don’t have the money for my drug test, ABK officers (employees) will try to stop me from scanning my fingerprints to make it look like I didn’t make my appointment.”

Huggins said in his statement that the first time he was not paid, an ABK employee told him that having no money was no excuse, demeaning and insulting him.

“She said she was ordering me to get a job and if I didn’t get one she was going to kick me out of the program, which means going back to jail because being on ABK watch was a condition of my release,” he said.

ABK filed motions to dismiss Huggins four times between March and May, according to the lawsuit, prompting the judge to remove him from house arrest and instead place him on abuse probation. county-run drug services (DAPS). That means he only has to take a drug test once a week, paying ABK $128 a month instead of $600 a month.

“I have been on DAPS since May 2022, but Judge Pigman said I will eventually have to go back to electronic house arrest,” Huggins said.

“Between pretrial monitoring, electronic house arrest, and probation, I paid about $3,700 in fees, and I’m still hundreds of dollars behind.”


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