HATTIESBURG, MS (WLBT) – Videotaped abuse at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center has prompted action from a youth advocacy group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal lawsuit.
The chilling images of youth detainees being beaten, hog tied and enduring other alleged abuses at the Forrest County facility have led to the filing of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg.
"That was basically our probable cause to get into the facility to see, to actually investigate to see exactly what was going on," said Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Corrie Wynette Cockrell.
After seeing that video attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center attempted to meet with the children in the facility in late January but say they were denied access.
Officials said they have federal authority as a protection and advocacy group to ensure the safety of the children.
"They did allow us in the facility, but they did not allow us to speak with any of the children. We just want to make sure that all of the children that are detained at the facility are not being denied any rights that they are afforded via the federal constitution," Cockrell said.
Forrest County attorney Jim Dukes, Jr. said the county has no problem with granting access to the juvenile detainees but he says the question is whether they have blanket access.
He also cited a concern about juvenile and guardian privacy issues.
"We have no intention of getting into a protracted legal battle to prevent them access. We would like clarification as to whether youth court actually has jurisdiction over this," Dukes said.
The county attorney believes there is a conflict over whether the SPLC's federal mandate would trump youth court jurisdiction.
He said he encouraged the advocacy group to file the petition in youth court.
A Forrest County youth court judge barred WDAM, WLBT's Raycom Media sister station in Hattiesburg, from airing the video of a jailer abusing teens.
The judge claimed it would jeopardize the juvenile's privacy.
In late January, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in favor of broadcasting the video.
The SPLC and Disability Rights Mississippi filed the civil action to gain access to juveniles in the facility.
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