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Families file lawsuit against King County, want policy changes for juveniles held in jail

The families of four teenage boys who have been held in solitary confinement at the Regional Justice Center Jail in Kent have filed a class-action lawsuit against King County. (Photo: KOMO News)

KENT, Wash. - The families of four teenage boys who have been held in solitary confinement at the Regional Justice Center Jail in Kent have filed a class-action lawsuit against King County.

In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, Sonya Stokes, Quinieca Taylor, Kimberly Fall and Marie Callendret claim their loved ones were housed in solitary confinement and weren’t given adequate schooling.

“They feel like they’ve been forgotten. They’ve been placed in a cell and left there,” said Travis Andrews, a policy analyst for Columbia Legal Services, the Seattle law firm that is representing the families.

On Friday, three sources close to the criminal justice system, told KOMO that several children have been transferred from the Regional Justice Center to the King County Youth Service Center, in Seattle. One source said the county is re-evaluating its policy on holding any youth in solitary confinement.

Alex Fryer, spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine, declined to comment Friday.

The teens who are held at the Kent jail are “auto-decline” cases, or defendants accused of the most serious violent felonies. These youths are between the ages 16 or 17 and facing prosecution for charges that include murder, robbery and assault. These defendants’ cases are tried in adult court.

Nick Straley, staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services, said his clients’ were housed for up to three days in their cells with only a very brief amount of outdoor time in a “concrete pen.” He said the Kent jail can hold up to 25 of these types of defendants at any given time.

“None of these youths have actually been convicted of a crime. They’re at the RJC awaiting trial,” he said.

Straley said his clients want to have the U.S. District Court judge assigned to the case appoint a Special Master to oversee the county making permanent changes.

Andrews said the families have noticed changes in the youths’ behavior since they arrived at the jail, something he attributes to the extended periods of isolation.

“Many of them have noticed difference in their children from the time that they went into the RJC and the time as recent as last week,” he said.

Andrews said the families are also concerned about education the defendants are receiving. He said they aren’t seeing a school teacher; they’re being “slid a packet” of school work under their cell door.

“These are not hardened criminals. These are children and the county should be treating them accordingly,” Straley said.

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