JUSTICE FOR THE GADSDEN 6: Black Children Are A Commodity In the Criminal Justice System

The Gadsden 6. Clockwise from Top Left to Right: Roland Martin, Melvin Ray (Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun), Fred Brown, Steven Stewart, Curtis Richardson (not pictured) and Archie Hamlet.

On March 24, 1988, at appx. 1:00 am, these six Black men were arrested in Gadsden, Alabama, for the burglary of a Belk Hudson department store. At the time, we were all 16 years of age or younger, and considered children by Alabama law.

After our arrest, we were taken to the police precinct, where we would be questioned for several hours, without any attorneys being present and without any of our parents being notified of where we were or what was going on.

When the interrogation ended around 4:00 am, the police officers, appx. four to six, all white, were satifised that we could be charged with over 30 felony counts of burglary and theft offense, not only for the burglary of that night but for several other unsolved burglaries as well.

Later that same morning of March 24, after spending a few more hours being processed into the youth facility, we were hauled into court for what was supposed to have been an initial appearance hearing. The only adults present for this hearing were the judge, the prosecutor, several of the police officers, and a case worker.

What transpired next . . .

Once in the courtroom, we were supposed to have a what in Alabama is called an “initial appearance” hearing where we received an explanation of the charges against us and be informed of our rights, including the right to have attorneys and to have our parents present with us in court to contest the charges.

Instead, something else happened that would affect us for the rest of their life.

The judge, prosecutor and the police held a private conference outside of our presence and beyond our ability to hear what was going on. When they adjourned, the prosecutor and the judge did all of the talking. The prosecutor stated that there would be a “stipulation” or admission of probable cause by the state in behalf of all six of us — to all 30-plus charges. The police officer concurred. The judge then stated that he accepted the stipulation and entered the stipulation into the official record of the court. We never spoke. Never knew what the word “stipulation” meant of what was going on.

MARCH 24, 1988 CASE ACTION SUMMARY FROM GADSDEN, ALA JUVENILE COURT WHERE THE “STIPULATION” WAS ENTERED BY THE COURT

This stipulation is extremely unethical and highly unusual. First and foremost, no one, not a judge, prosecutor, or police officer can stipulate to a criminal charge for anyone on their first appearance in court. And even worse, this was done to children who did not have attorneys and whose parents were never notified and were not present.

The imagery of this scene and how these adults committed these acts against these children is undeniable: A white judge. White prosecutor. All white police officers. Both case workers white. The only Black face in the room were those of six children. We were not viewed as children but as feeder stock for the system of Mass Incarceration. With the stipulation, we could now be transferred to adult court where we could receive real felony convictions and all of the disabilities that come with that.

It hard to imagine that in a period of just a few short hours, six children could be arrested, interrogated for over three hours by a group of all- white police detectives, charged with over 30 felony offenses, and then taken into a courtroom without an attorney or even a parent present, only to have the prosecutor and police make an admission of guilt for them, which a judge then dutifully accepts before ordering the children detained.

 

After this stipulation was made, all six of us would ultimately be transferred to adult court were we would suffer convictions that would be with us for the rest of our lives. The problem is that we never should have been in adult court in the first place. The proceedings in juvenile court were illegal and unethical. Today, we are fighting for the justice that we were entitled to in 1988.

Join the fight for Justice for The Gadsden 6 as we demand that the judgement and orders issued by Juvenile Judge Robert E. Lewis and the actions of the prosecutor be declared unconstitutional and void. The record of these convictions still stand today, and they must be corrected.

GADSDEN 6

Justice for The Gadsden 6

Justice for The Gadsden 6

Gadsden 6 photogrid

Clockwise from top left: Roland Martin, Melvin Ray, Fred Brown, Steve Stewart, Curtis Richardson, Archie Hamlet

Introduction

When Children are exploited by the Juvenile Justice System in Alabama

Thirty-one years ago on March 24, 1988, six Black children, all under the age of 17, Fred Brown, Archie Hamlet, Roland Martin, Melvin Ray, Curtis Richardson and Steve Stewart, were arrested by Gadsden police in the early morning hours around 1:00 am, for a department store burglary. After their arrest, these six children were taken to the police station for a three-hours long interrogation. The children were not represented by attorneys and their parents were not present during this interrogation.

The interrogations were conducted by an all-white group of 4 to 6 detectives. When the interrogation was completed around 4:00 am, these children were charged with over 30 felony offenses involving several unsolved burglaries in Gadsden.

Just a few hours after this early-morning interrogation ended, police and the district attorney’s office then marched these children into court for an initial appearance hearing that quickly turned into a full fledged probable cause detention hearing. None of the children were represented in court by an attorney, and none of their parents were present. It was just the judge, police, and the D.A.

At the hastily erected probable cause detention hearing, which was orchestrated by the juvenile court judge, the DA and police, the judge allowed the D.A. to stipulate to probable cause on behalf of all six children to ALL 30-plus charges pending against them.
This illegal probable cause stipulation would then be used to justify continued detention of these children and removal from their homes, parents and siblings.

Juvenile Court Judge Robert E. Lewis’ order states:

“At detention hearing probable cause stipulated to and child ordered detained. . .”

Copy of Melvin Ray's Detention Hearing sheet

Copy of Melvin Ray’s Detention Hearing sheet

As the above court record shows, attorneys were not appointed until April 6, 1988, two full weeks after the arrest and “probable cause” stipulation were made.

Meanwhile, the Gadsden 6 remained in detention for over a month, until April 27, 1988, when the juvenile court judge granted the prosecutor’s motion to transfer these children to adult court. The juvenile court judge granted the prosecutor’s motion to transfer on the same day that it was filed, without conducting a transfer hearing or even notifying anyone that the motion had been filed.

None of the children were present when this motion was heard, no one was served notice of the prosecutor’s motion, the children did not have legal representation to review the motion or present evidence in their behalf, and none of their parents were present when the motion was heard or granted. Injustice was administered behind closed doors when no one was looking…

On to Adult Court…

Once in adult court, the Gadsden 6 were given an ultimatum: plead guilty to all charges and go home that day with sentences of time served and probation, or take a chance on trial and spend the next decade of their lives in prison. The authorities in Gadsden saddled these young black children with over 20 adult felony convictions that would follow them for the rest of their lives, and through a process that guaranteed injustice, as no one was present during the juvenile proceedings to protect the constitutional rights of these children or the parental rights of their parents.

These illegally prior felony convictions have been used in subsequent adult proceedings to enhance many of the Gadsden 6’s sentences under Alabama’s draconian habitual felony offender law, resulting in an additional 50-plus years of illegal time being served, including two instances where life without parole was illegally imposed.

Join the Gadsden 6’s demand for justice !!!

  1. All proceedings and convictions be declared null and void and removed from their records.
  2. All records in juvenile and adult court be expunged.
  3. Compensation and acknowledgement of the wrongful nature of the proceedings used against them, including full legal pardons.

Sign our petition to the Alabama Legislature and the Alabama courts to rectify this injustice put upon the Gadsden 6 by the Gadsden Police Department, the Gadsden DA, and the Juvenile & Adult Divisions of the Circuit Court of Etowah County, Alabama.

Follow the GADSDEN 6 on Facebook @ Justice For The Gadsden 6.

Gadsden 6 Supporters at Courtroom 29 July 2019

Gadsden 6 Supporters at the Montgomery Courtroom, 29 July 2019

July 29, 2019 court hearing in Montgomery, AL

Justice for the Gadsden 6 poster

Justice for the Gadsden 6 poster

Juvenile Justice: How 6 black children were set up for failure in Gadsden, Ala

On March 24, 1988, six black (6) teens (Roland Martin, Fred Brown, Steve Stewart, Melvin Ray, Archie Hamlet, and Curtis Richardson) were arrested in the early morning hours after an attempted burglary of a department store in Gadsden, Alabama.

After being arrested, the youth were all taken to a police station where they were interrogated by several officers (all white) for several hours. By the time the interrogations ended, well after 3:00 am, the youth were charged collectively  with over 30 counts (appx. 5 to 6 counts each ) for many other unsolved burglaries in Gadsden. These children did not have any attorney present during these interrogations and no attempt was made to contact any of their parents until after the interrogations had ended.image

Some parents were reached, some weren’t.

    Later that same morning, these 6 children were taken before a judge for a “probable cause hearing.”  None of the parents attended this impromptu hearing. And, none of the youth were represented by counsel. Somehow, with no opportunity to be heard, without any counsel, and with little to no evidence beyond the word of the police officers, the judge allowed for probable cause to be stipulated to for all 6 youth. image
It is not known who the court allowed to stipulate to anything in behalf of the Gadsden 6 youth, but the record clearly shows that this is what occurred. We know that children could not stipulate to probable cause or anything else for themselves, and we know that no lawyers were appointed in the case until weeks later, in April; so the stipulation was not made by an attorney.

As a result of this stipulation, all 6 children were ordered to be detained in detention facilities pending further proceedings.

The next event to take place in these proceedings took place on April 6, 1988, when attorney J.B. Lofton was appointed. 

This appointment of counsel came after these children had already been before a judge and after the court had already authorized custody to be taken from the parents.
Finally, with counsel now appointed, the judge set a hearing for April 28, 1988, and for the first time, issued notice and summons’ to the parents. image
However, on April 27, 1988, just one day before the hearing was scheduled, the prosecutor filed a motion to transfer all of the cases of the children to the circuit court for prosecution as adults (for all non-violent property offenses). The juvenile judge granted pprosecutor’s motion that same day that it was filed !!!

The children were all transferred to adult without a hearing, without a lawyer being present, and without any of the children or their parents being present. In fact, apparently  no one but the judge and the prosecutor ( the same two parties from the March 24 probable cause “stipulation” hearing) were even aware that such motion had even been filed. Proof that the attorney did not perform any services throughout these proceedings can be gleamed from the fact that his declaration for fees was voided right after it was filed.image
In the end, these children suffered convictions in adult court for offenses that they never had legal representation on at critical stages of the proceedings , namely, during the interrogations and initial arrest, at the probable cause hearing when someone was allowed to stipulate to probable cause in behalf of the children, and when judge granted the prosecutor’s motion to transfer the cases to adult court. Of course, all of this was/is illegal.image

All or most of these children suffered collateral consequences as a result of the actions taken in the juvenile court, including having these illegal prior convictions used against them both in and out of court, including two of whom who have had these illegal non- violent prior convictions  used to enhance future sentences to Life Without Parole under Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act.

We are asking that you support the Gadsden 6 as they fight for Juvenile Justice in Alabama.
WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS ALABAMA