RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Rutherford County illegally arrested and jailed juveniles for decades, according to a federal judge.
The county has agreed to pay up to $11 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought on behalf the juveniles.
The final amount the county will pay depends on the number of valid claims made.
Those who qualify could receive nearly $5000 for every time they were illegally detained.
But finding those people has not been easy.
Attorneys who have worked on the case for years are trying to alert people about the settlement and have offered to help them fill out the required paperwork for free.
Dylan Geerts was 15 years old in 2013, when he was arrested and taken to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention center.
"Me and my best friend had gone out at night and opened some unlocked cars," Geerts said.
They didn't steal the cars, but they did take some change.
It was a nonviolent offense, but Geerts said he was held in solitary confinement for four days waiting to see a judge.
"They essentially got away with child abuse," Geerts said.
"Four days doesn't sound like a lot until there is absolutely nothing to do. I mean just shut yourself in a closet for four days and you'll know what I mean," Geerts said.
Attorney Kyle Mothershead said what happened to Geerts was illegal and a federal judge agreed.
"It was okay to arrest him, but he should have been sent home with his parents," Mothershead said.
He was shocked to find Rutherford County routinely kept kids in jail who should have gotten a ticket and been told to come back to court.
"It is mass illegal incarceration that was happening for literally 25 years, ever since the detention center was opened," Mothershead said.
Thousands of kids were arrested over those 25 years.
Now many are eligible to receive thousands of dollars as a result of a settlement agreement with the county.
"We just have to find them. And they're not kids anymore. They're young adults 18, 19 20, 21 years old," Mothershead said.
All those eligible received a packet in the mail.
But it can be complicated to fill out, and it asks very specific questions.
"We are totally prepared to go hands on. We have been going hands on for free and helping these families file these claims," Mothershead said.
Dylan Geerts said being locked up in solitary confinement for a small mistake as a teen, changed who he was when he came out.
"You come back to your life before and it's not the same," Geerts said.
"You don't fit in with the good kids anymore. You're now a bad kid," Geerts said.
Those eligible could get $4,800 for each time they were illegally detained.
Mothershead wants Rutherford to pay the full amount and he wants to send a message.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do you think other counties are doing this?"
Mothershead answered, " Very high likelihood."
"The other counties should be aware that they could be next," Mothershead said.
The deadline for people to file is the end of October - next month.
Attorneys say only a few hundred of those eligible have filled out the paperwork.
They are willing to help for free.
The Brazil - Clark law firm is helping sign up eligible people.
They can be contacted at 615-730-8619.
If you think you have a claim you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name, date of birth and a phone number where you can be contacted.