The City of Dothan has implemented changes to how inmates at the city jail can be released in the wake of the recent filing of a class action lawsuit against the city.
Federal court records show a filing made by Dothan City Attorney Len White claims the city believes a recently filed class-action lawsuit against the city is due to be dismissed or moot because the issues were either already being addressed or are now being addressed after recent changes implemented on Friday.
The class action lawsuit was filed last week by 56-year-old Anthony Cooper, and his two lawyers, in connection to how the city’s bail bond system has been set up for people charged with misdemeanors and traffic offenses and booked into the city jail. Records show Cooper has challenged the use of fixed secured bail amounts used to detain the poor on minor misdemeanor offenses.
The lawsuit was filed by Cooper’s two lawyers, Mitch McGuire, of Montgomery, and Alec Karakatsanis, the co-founder of the Washington D.C. group Equal Justice Under Law.
Cooper’s lawyers also filed a temporary restraining order, which the court granted in an effort to get their client released from the Dothan City Jail.
“The judge has found there was a need to restrain the city from keeping my client in jail,” McGuire said. “He ordered my client’s immediate release.”
White filed a response to Cooper’s lawsuit this week, which claimed police arrested Cooper after he was found unconscious and intoxicated at the Dothan Greyhound Bus terminal around 1 a.m. on June 13. White’s filing said Cooper’s $300 bail amount was set within the state’s schedule and guidelines.
Cooper was released from jail, per the federal judge’s order on June 18.
According to the City of Dothan’s response to the lawsuit, the city implemented several changes as of Friday, June 19.
As of Friday, the Dothan Municipal Court began holding hearings within 48 hours for anyone who had not taken advantage of the three bail options, which included property bond, bail bonding (through a company) or a cash bond.
The Dothan municipal judge also issued a standing order allowing offering additional options of release for people jailed on a failure to appear in court charge. People jailed on a failure to appear can now post bail through a property bond and bail bond (company), along with the previously required cash bond.
The municipal court also issued an order permitting access to the courtroom.
White’s filing also contended these changes, along with actions already regularly taken by the municipal court, would remedy any alleged constitutional violations raised by Cooper and his lawyers.
Issues from the lawsuit will be heard in court at a hearing on Friday at the federal courthouse in Montgomery.
The lawsuit claimed Cooper was told he would not be released unless he paid the standard $300 bail amount for public intoxication charges.
The lawsuit also said Cooper was indigent, is illiterate, survives solely on Social Security benefits and could not afford to post his bail. Cooper was told the earliest he would be brought to court was nearly a week after his arrest on Thursday, June 18 for its weekly court date.
The lawsuit said because of the City of Dothan doesn’t deviate from the secured bail system, anyone arrested who is too poor to pay the pre-set secured bail could spend as many as seven days in jail before their first possible court appearance.
The lawsuit said unlike many other cities, Dothan doesn’t allow people arrested to be released on their own recognizance or with an unsecured bond, in which a person would be released by promising to pay the scheduled bail amount if they fail to appear in court. The lawsuit alleged the city instead requires the payment amount to be made up front, either in cash or through a bail bonding company.
“We believe the City of Dothan is participating in flagrant, unconstitiutional violations against the indigent,” McGuire said.
McGuire said several cities across Alabama already use the unsecured or signature bail bonding system such as Birmingham.
McGuire and Karakatsanis also both filed a similar lawsuit against the City of Clanton. As a result, the city agreed to change how they do their bail bonding system for misdemeanor crimes.
“If an individual like my client, who is indigent, can’t afford this small amount of bail money they must sit in jail for up to seven days until the next court session,” McGuire said. “Meanwhile someone who has money can buy their way out of jail in moments. Indident invidiuals must languish in jail until either friends or family can come up with the money to bail them out or until the next court date.”
McGuire said they filed the lawsuit in an effort to get an order from the court for the City of Dothan to change their bail bonding procedures.
“There is very clear Supreme Court precedent that says that type of activity is unconstitutional, keeping individuals on minor misdemeanors in jail simply because they can not affort to bond themselves out,” McGuire said.
Follow Matt on Twitter @ElofsonMatt.
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