Madison revokes Sequel business license to operate controversial facility

MADISON, Ala. - Tonight, the Madison City Council voted unanimously to revoke Sequel T.S.I.'s business license to operate a facility known as Three Springs on Brownsferry Road.

This comes after a public hearing at 6 p.m. on the subject of Sequel's business license. The council had several options: to revoke it, suspend it, or continue it with conditions.

Madison citizens expressed outrage and fear over the controversial facility at the meeting saying, "Enough is enough, it's time to end this once and for all."

Effective immediately, Sequel has no license to operate in the city of Madison. The council gave a 7-day grace period for Sequel to see the decision through before the mayor can ask the court to step in and shut it down, attorneys said.

Sequel has said that it cares for youth that most will not help. But community members and public officials have long called for it to move out of the area where it is currently located. The council needed to balance what the public wanted, and what made sense for the facility and the youth it served.

In a statement, a representative of Sequel said,   "We are disappointed with the council's action tonight. Sequel met with the city in good faith to reach a reasonable solution. Sequel continues to explore all its options."

They did not elaborate what this means for the students at Sequel, or whether the facility's operator will seek legal action, except to say all options are on the table.

The History

Sequel most recently is being sued by the family of Van Johnson. Authorities said two Three Springs runaways killed Johnson during a robbery behind Publix on County Line Road in 2017.

"He was brutally partially decapitated two years ago tonight," said a citizen at Wednesday's meeting. "His family still doesn't have justice."

After that escape, the Madison City Council was divided on the decision to approve Sequel's business license, with conditions, to operate in the city of Madison last year. The conditions had to do with safety and security, including community notification during escape or runaway situations.

Concerns resurfaced after three teens ran away from the facility last month. Law enforcement located them a short time later.

Authorities said Wednesday that the teens hopped a fence that wasn't fortified with wire and climbed onto the roof out of security camera view to get out of custody.

Public Hearing

Before the public meeting, city attorney Megan Zingarelli said the council needed to ask themselves the following: "Does the operation of the business have a history of causing hurt, inconvenience or damage to the city and its residents, and is the business endangering the public health, safety and welfare?"

She said Sequel showed a pattern of multiple escapes within the past year.

"The most significant incident a few weeks ago showed there were security gaps at the facility that enabled the escape. For example, there was no interior razor wire on one of the gates and three DYS residents were able to scale the gate and run across the roof during the recreational period to escape. The Chief of Police has also confirmed there was  no security camera coverage of that gate," she stated.

Citizens spoke out too,  many explaining they felt unsafe with Sequel in the neighborhood. They pointed to the history of escapes, the amount of times a police SWAT team showed up in their yards, and the way they worried about their children.

At Wednesday's meeting, Sequel made it clear their facility is not easily relocated asking for around a year to move.

Sequel Regional VP Kenny Roberts said, in part, "The kind of facilities and programs we offer are unique, and we can’t just pack up and move somewhere else. Trying to create something new somewhere else that functions as well as our current facility that has succeeded for over two decades: well, that literally cannot happen overnight or in a few months. Relocating safely, and legally – that will take a lot. It will require us to find a facility that is much like a school, and those are not available everywhere. We might have to build something new, or retrofit something to fit the demands of the services the State is required to provide."

The Decision

The city won't be giving out a third chance for the facility to keep its license. They amended the resolution approved Wednesday to include that Sequel had 7 days (instead of 30 as originally proposed) grace period before the decision became enforceable.

"It's called a privilege license and there's not business on here anywhere," said council member Greg Shaw, pointing to the business license. "The way I see it, you've used all y'all's privileges up in this city. And we appreciate what you've done but it's time to find a different place."

Council members said Sequel has had more than enough time to leave.

"In reality, they've had a year and a half to work on that issue, and we said, enough is enough," said Madison City Council President Steve Smith.

They decided Wednesday to be firm saying the city appreciates what Sequel does for the youth it serves but the clock has run out on its time in Madison.

"We need to all work together and the council evidently didn't feel that way, that they were working with us. So we wanted to send a message," said Smith.

It remains unclear what happens to the 50 young men in Sequel's care at Three Springs now. Madison attorneys have said the state Department of Youth Services and Human Resources have to speak to that since Sequel's contract is with them. This issue is a new one for the city of Madison but they say they're prepared to work through it.

Sequel has the right to appeal this revocation in court.

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