A legal rights group is suing Maricopa County Lawyer Bill Montgomery more than his profitable system with a drug therapy firm that targets cannabis customers and punishes impoverished folks far more than other individuals.
Civil Rights Corps, primarily based in Washington, D.C., filed a complaint this week in Arizona U.S. District Court following investigating for far more than a year. The group started checking into the questionable, income-producing connection involving Montgomery’s workplace and Remedy Assessment Screening Center, a nonprofit firm that goes by the acronym TASC, following articles in Phoenix New Occasions and the Arizona Republic.
The 40-web page complaint (see under) asks the court to certification the case as a class action lawsuit, and award damages to the folks allegedly harmed by Montgomery’s policies. The complaint particulars the stories of 3 of these folks, but imply there are a lot of far more.
According to Civil Rights Corps, Montgomery, the county, and TASC have been perpetrating a scheme that turns producing payments into the most essential aspect of a “drug treatment” system. The diversion system normally keeps low-revenue defendants in the system for twice as lengthy as wealthier defendants, threatening participants with felony prosecution for failing to make comparatively smaller payments. Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s workplace and TASC rake in the millions.
Every single of Arizona’s 15 counties handles smaller-time pot busts differently. Some counties charge a handful of hundred bucks and need neighborhood service for a deferred prosecution. Maricopa County’s diversion program, according to nearby cannabis lawyer Tom Dean, is the strictest.
Montgomery inherited the TASC diversion program when he took his job in 2010, and signed a contract with the enterprise in 2016 that updates the arrangement but offers small hint the system supplies Montgomery’s workplace with reimbursements of far more than $1 million a year.
Immediately after police bust an individual for possession of an illegal drug, the TASC scheme starts by misleading defendants about the consequences, the complaint shows. Montgomery’s workplace sends letters to defendants informing that they’re topic to jail time of they’re prosecuted effectively. Nevertheless, a 1996 law ordinarily prevents jail time for very first- and second-time offenders.
That is what occurred to Taja Collier, a 21-year-old African-American lady arrested in October 2016 for cannabis possession, the complaint says. The automobile she was riding in got pulled more than and searched. Police discovered trace amounts of marijuana in a container in her purse, an quantity so smaller they in no way bothered to weigh it. Beneath Arizona’s anti-cannabis law, although, any quantity can be deemed a felony. Healthcare-marijuana sufferers are ordinarily immune from prosecution beneath a 2010 law, but Collier is not a patient.
She had in no way been arrested just before. Later, in the spring, the county attorney’s workplace sent her a letter providing two options: She could face felony prosecution with a possibility of spending two years in jail, or enroll in the TASC diversion system.
Collier was forced to quit college at Central Arizona College in Casa Grande to concentrate on finishing the system, which needed her to submit to drug testing at a TASC workplace in Phoenix various instances a week. As a aspect-time worker at Target producing minimum wage, she struggled to come up with the $150 entry charge and $15 for every drug test, resorting to frequent donations of blood plasma to make ends meet. She told her TASC case manager about the troubles and regularly rescheduled her appointments.
“The case manager in no way told her that she could take the tests with out paying for them,” the complaint states. “The case manager also in no way told her that she could apply for a decreased charge.”
Collier became homeless in September 2017, the complaint says, sleeping in public parks for about a month. Her case manager’s response to the news of her troubles: “I am hoping points get far better for you. I also noticed that due to the fact you are on your FINAL NOTICE, any missed test previous this point will outcome in system termination.”
TASC reported to the county attorney’s workplace the subsequent month that Collier had flunked the diversion system due to the fact she hadn’t submitted to the drug and alcohol tests. The county filed felony charges against her that December. But she was permitted to attempt TASC once again.
She’s nevertheless in the system, according to the complaint. She owes $667 to TASC just before she can leave it. She sent a letter to her case manager on August 17, repeating that she’s promoting plasma to spend for the system and asking if there was any way she could take the test with out paying for it. The case manager wrote back that she had to spend the costs if she wanted the felony dismissed.
As New Occasions wrote in the 2016 articles referenced in the complaint, TASC has been a money cow for its founders. In distinct, Barbara Zugor, its former CEO, earned involving $360,000 and $476,000 per year from 2008 to 2014 alone. Participants in TASC, practically 80 % of whom are marijuana offenders, spend up to $1,300 per particular person for the privilege of enrolling.
Montgomery’s workplace told New Occasions for a further write-up in late October 2016 that the workplace listed 1,573 productive TASC completions for marijuana offenses from June 2015 to July 2016, and 360 unsuccessful completions. Given that the MCAO gets $650 for every productive completion, the workplace took in just more than $1 million that fiscal year.
As Civil Rights Corps points out in the complaint, the 2016 contract with TASC (which, by the way, expires September 30 of this year) states that Montgomery “at his option” can use income from the system to spend for indigent participants, with indigent defined as an individual “who is with out adequate indicates or potential to present themselves with sufficient meals, shelter or social necessaries, and whose revenue does not exceed 50 % of the federal poverty guidelines…”
But Montgomery and TASC do not minimize or waive costs “for any particular person, regardless of economic circumstance,” the complaint states.
TASC personnel interviewed by “investigators for undersigned counsel” reported that decreased costs are reserved for folks who can prove they have “basically zero income” that reductions are “very difficult” and uncommon that testing is “strictly charge for service” and that case managers suggest customers borrow income to comprehensive the system.
Civil Rights Corps’ complaint points out that Montgomery was a powerful advocate against a legalization measure on Arizona’s ballot in 2016, when named a Vietnam veteran at a legalization debate an “enemy,” and has “worked to narrow Arizona’s health-related marijuana laws.”
Montgomery started a policy of not commenting to New Occasions for articles following an write-up pointing out that he’d attempted to distort statistics with regards to teenage use of cannabis in the state.