Suit filed against Care Academy

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By Geoff Hamill

An incident that allegedly took place in December of 2006 has now led to a suit against Care Academy Inc., a former Washington County facility for troubled boys.

Greg Simms, an attorney with Louisville-based Gruner & Simms, PLLC, said he is representing one young boy who claims he was strip searched at the Care Academy in 2006, and he is looking for others who may have suffered the same experience.

“As I understand it, there were about 12 boys who were taken and strip searched. From what I gather, they were taken in three by three in front of one another, then in a group of at least a dozen,” Simms said. “I don’t know if it was a regular practice or if it was an isolated incident. Either way, this incident was unjustified.”

Simms said he has been given a reason for the search, but he doesn’t find it to be a good one.

“The reason that has been given to us for the search is so unreasonable that it’s my belief it was not a search at all, just tortuous conduct in order to humiliate children,” Simms said. “It seems more reasonable that it was humiliation or punishment than a search.”

In 2006, when the incident allegedly took place, the mother of a then-14-year-old boy contacted The Springfield Sun and spoke of her son’s experience. He also made comments to The Sun under the condition that his identity not be revealed.

The mother, Susie Greer, said in 2006 that her son told her the incident took place after he admitted to having chewing gum, which was against the rules at the Care Academy.

The boy said the students were initially told that they would be permitted to keep their boxer shorts on during the search, but that later changed.

“We were getting ready for gym, and we took off our clothes and put on our gym clothes and headed to the gym. They (staff) came in and said they found suspicion of tattooing equipment, but they didn’t,” the boy said. “They did find gum in my pants, and they told us to go to our living area. Once we were there, they asked us if we had any confessions, and I told them I had the gum. Then they told us to go outside and wait for them to call us in.”

After the boys were called back into the room, he said the search began.

“We went in there in groups of three, and they told us to take off our clothes, but not our boxers. But then they told us to take off our boxers in front of each other. We hesitated at first, but then we did it,” he said. “They told us to bend over and cough, and we did it, and then they left. I felt very violated.”

Simms said he is seeking other possible plaintiffs in this case, but said this would not be considered a class-action suit because of the small number of plaintiffs or potential plaintiffs.

“People have used the term class action, but you have to have so many plaintiffs, and we’re just not there (in number),” he said. “I don’t believe we have many potential plaintiffs. I believe we probably have about a dozen boys out there who were strip searched.”

Simms said he wants to see anyone who was a victim of this alleged incident have the opportunity to receive financial compensation for their involvement.

“We could join the boys as plaintiffs to this action at this point instead of having to bring completely separate suits. We’re certainly looking for other boys involved in this,” he said. “At some point, the statute of limitations is going to toll for an under age child. A lot of these boys are becoming of age, and if they don’t get involved now, it may be that later on down the road, they’ll never get retribution for these things done to them. It’s starting to get to the period where time is of the essence.”

Wayne Carroll, an attorney with MacKenzie and Peden PSC of Louisville, which is representing Care Academy, Inc., said he could not comment on cases that involve pending litigation.

Anita Johnson, a Pikeville-based attorney who was chairman of the board of the Care Academy at the time the search allegedly took place, commented in 2006. She acknowledged the incident, but said it was under investigation by state officials. Johnson said she had no comment at this time, other than to add that Care Academy has since been closed and the corporation has been dissolved.

Simms said he wants to help any victims of the alleged incident to receive financial retribution, which he described as the only way to compensate victims of cases like this.

“You force 12 boys to stand naked together and do a cavity search, strip search them in front of each other, its humiliating. Money is not going to make up for that, but unfortunately that’s the only way we have to compensate people in their shoes. It’s an embarrassment they’re going to have to live with, and for some of these boys that’s not going to be enough.”

Among the reasons given for the suit by Simms are false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as a 1983 action, which he described as  a civil remedy for violating someone’s civil rights. He added that the case is now in federal court in Jefferson County through the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

Simms said anyone who may have been a victim of the alleged incident could contact his office at (502) 618-4949.