Thursday we talked about the ordeal that Jason Stanley, a 20-year-old Auburn University student, endured after being physically assaulted by 3 other men in 2007. The assailants knocked Jason to the ground, causing him to lose consciousness after he hit his head on the concrete pavement. Doctors initially treated Jason for superficial wounds, not realizing until weeks later that he actually suffered from a serious traumatic brain injury (TBI).
As senseless and horrible as Jason’s experience is, it is far from unusual. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 20 percent of the 1.5 million annual cases of TBI in the United States is caused by acts of violence. That is to say that every year, 300,000 people sustain permanent, life-altering TBI. Like Jason, these people are victims of a physical assault of some form.
Once doctors discovered Jason’s TBI and set him on an appropriate course of treatment, his mother Carol could turn more of her attention toward the actual crime. She immediately realized, however, that the mission would not be an easy one. “Jason, like many other crime victims who are knocked unconscious, could only remember bits and pieces of what happened,” Carol explained. She turned to the Auburn Police Department, hoping they would be able to tell her the specific details and circumstances of the crime. To her frustration, Carol found that although a report had been filed in Auburn, the reporting officer would not return her calls.
“I was so distraught that I didn’t know anything about what had happened to [Jason],” Carol said. Eventually, a detective from the police department heard about Carol’s quest to find out what happened to her son and sympathized. “He actually got personally involved and became a friend and advocate for us,” she said.
“Most victims’ families don’t work with the detective. But the path you go down is absolutely horrifying,” Carol said, adding that the trauma of the crime was compounded by the stress of trying to find out who assaulted her son and why.
The three men who allegedly assaulted Jason were brought before a Grand Jury in Lee County, Alabama. According to Carol, the District Attorney’s office told her that she could call in a couple of weeks to check on the status of the rulings. She called as instructed, but her inquiry was angrily dismissed, leaving her no way of checking on the proceedings. Months later, in January, Carol called the Lee County Sheriff’s Department to find whether any arrest warrants had been issued for Jason’s alleged assaulters.
“That’s how I found out there was an indictment,” Carol said. “The kid had already been bonded out, gotten an attorney, and was scheduled for pre-trial. The DA’s office never notified me.”
Carol’s experience with the DA made her feel that people who commit crimes enjoy more rights and protections than victims of crimes and their families. “That’s where I got involved on the crime victim’s task force,” Carol said, explaining that victims and their families should be treated fairly and notified by authorities of legal proceedings involved in their case.
Two of the men who were accused of attacking Jason were indicted for 2nd degree assault, but they were protected as juveniles under Alabama law. Because they were both under 21 and had no prior police record, they automatically received youthful offender status for the felony.
Carol contacted the District Attorney to tell him that she was unhappy with the ruling. “After my son was knocked unconscious one particular kid continued to beat and kick my son in the face,” she said.
According to Carol, the judge granted youthful offender status without reading the case file. After complaining to the DA and making several phone calls, Carol learned that the DA could file a motion for a hearing on her and her son’s behalf. She wanted the judge to hear her side of the story and hopefully change his mind about the youthful offender status. After placing the right amount of pressure on the DA, a motion was filed and a hearing was scheduled.
Carol explained that her hearing is “where I learned the judge and the DA’s office thought I was blowing this out of proportion.”
“They did not understand the long-term possibilities of traumatic brain injury,” Carol said. “The judge said he wished he’d known all this before he made his original decision,” she said.
Next: Jason’s Story, Part 3 – the Crime Victims Bill of Rights