Attorney: Abuse at Sequel Courtland led child to attempt suicide

Updated: Dec. 17, 2020 at 11:11 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A new lawsuit was filed against a Lawrence County psychiatric youth treatment facility claims staff abused and neglected a then 14-year-old boy who needed help.

A Birmingham is suing Sequel Youth & Family Services. He says his client lived in a house of...
A Birmingham is suing Sequel Youth & Family Services. He says his client lived in a house of horrors and they want the company shutdown.(WAFF)

This is just the newest twist in a massive investigation into Sequel Youth and Family services we’ve been covering for months.

Sequel is a for profit company that has 20 facilities across the country.

But two are right here in the Tennessee Valley, in Courtland and Owens Cross Roads.

We’ve told you about these facilities before where a scathing report from an advocacy group detailed multiple cases of abuse at the hands of staff and filthy living conditions.

The lawsuit alleges a boy was physically attacked by staff members at the Courtland facility, and the pattern of repeated abuse led to him trying to take his own life.

For months we’ve been asking for an interview with Sequel management, but every request has been denied. So Thursday night we showed up to the corporate office.

No one in this building is authorized to give any statements; that’s what a Sequel employee told us.

Sequel Youth & Family Services is now in the national spotlight after NBC Nightly News ran an investigative report on the company Wednesday night.

“My client lived a house of horrors,” Tommy James said.

Tommy James is an attorney representing a 16-year-old named Hunter who lived at a Sequel facility in Courtland for 10 months.

“Hunter had gone through months of abuse and neglect at Sequel. Horrible things. He was beaten by employees, treated like a dog,” James said.

James says this led to a suicide attempt in February of 2019.

“He was assaulted four times within 10 days before he got a long sleeve shirt, took it to the bathroom, and tried to hang himself on a shower head,” James said.

The state pays Sequel $330 per child every day to house children who either need mental health care, behavioral issues or have no place else to go.

With more than 100 children in Sequel facilities currently, that comes out to over $30,000 of tax dollars each day.

And that’s just for Alabama.

According to NBC News, Sequel’s cofounder Jay Ripley said in 2015, “you can make money in this business if you control staffing.”

At the time Ripley was making over $100,000 a month from Sequel.

“No entity should be profiting off the abuse and neglect of Alabama’s children. Period,” Brownstein said.

The Department of Human Resources, who contracts with Sequel, sent us a statement saying in part “Sequel’s corrective action has consisted of company-wide staff training and renovations of the living areas.”

Rhonda Brownstein, the legal services director for the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program, the agency which prompted the investigation in July, says DHR is not doing its job.

“The state has repeatedly given 100 grades to these facilities that clearly should not be getting 100s and that’s very, very concerning to us,” Brownstein said.

NBC News also reported DHR asked the governor to sign off on contract extensions with Sequel, weeks after receiving a report from a former Sequel employee regarding multiple instances of abuse.

“That’s why we feel like we need to get in now and not just see the facilities, but talk to children,” Brownstein said.

James says Hunter and his mother Patricia want to see all Sequel Facilities shutdown.

“This is going on all over country at Sequel facilities and they’re making a ton of money off of it.”

Brownstein says as soon as they are able, ADAP investigators will revisit every Sequel Facility in the state, but she says her ultimate goal is for all for profit youth treatment facilities to be shutdown.

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