A trial to determine if Valley Behavioral Health System in Barling was negligent in the alleged rape of a minor by another minor on an Area Agency on Aging van in 2016 will continue as planned in early April, but whether or not two expert witnesses get to testify for the plaintiff will be determined by next week.
In a hearing Tuesday, Sebastian County Circuit Judge Michael Fitzhugh granted Chip Sexton of McCutchen & Sexton Law Firm an additional week to provide deposition time of his expert witnesses to attorney Robert Honea of Hardin, Jesson & Terry PLC in Fort Smith, which represents Valley Behavioral Health System.
For the negligence lawsuit filed in June 2016, McCutchen & Sexton is representing the father of the boy who was allegedly raped on the Area Agency on Aging van by a 14-year-old male minor being treated at Valley Behavioral Health.
Among 18 "requests for admission" that the plaintiff's lawsuit seeks is that Valley Behavioral Health knew the male teen "had serious mental health issues that caused him to desire to rape, sexually abuse and physically harm others." Another issue at hand has been the driver of the van being a relative of the teen.
The Area Agency on Aging van’s driver, Jordan Byrd, was 71 at the time the incident. According to the Franklin County Circuit Clerk in Charleston, Byrd pleaded guilty in July to endangering the welfare of a minor, a Class D felony, and was sentenced to 60 months probation. Byrd also received 12 months probation for the misdemeanor charge of child maltreatment because he was a mandated reporter who failed to report the alleged rape. Byrd was fined $850 for the crimes and $150 in court costs.
David Gibbons, prosecuting attorney for Franklin County, said that Byrd's age and declining health were factors in the sentencing.
Following delays in November and December in obtaining deposition time with Sexton's expert witnesses, Honea filed a motion for continuance of the trial last week. There simply wasn't enough time to review the materials and file responses, he said. Both Sexton and one of the witnesses had been sick at different times in the past two months and set the proceedings back. Honea had also requested both of Sexton's expert witnesses be stricken, but since his schedule opened up recently due to a continuance in another case the judge allowed Sexton one more week to set up meetings for depositions with Honea.
Sexton’s two expert witnesses for the trial are located in Denver and San Antonio.
Honea noted in court there had been a settlement with Area Agency on Aging. The settlement is sealed. According to court records, Area Agency on Aging’s insurance company, National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, was issued an order of dismissal by Fitzhugh on Jan. 10.