RICHMOND, Va. - Rudy Carey admitted to the mistakes he made decades ago as he lived with the disease of addiction.
“I started using more crack cocaine and eventually I started using heroin. Heroin became my downfall,” the Stafford County father recalled. “Nobody wanted me around, not my family, not my children.”
Since then, Carey said he has lived a life of recovery.
“September 15, 2007, after coming home from prison after two years and eight months, I needed to do something different,” he said.
But those past mistakes have followed him years later.
After using his struggle with beating addiction to work as a substance abuse counselor at a Fredericksburg treatment facility, his superiors let him go.
Carey, with the help of the Institute for Justice, has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and Commissioner Alison Land for violating his 14th Amendment rights.
“In his old life, he tried to run away from a traffic stop and he struck the officer who was trying to handcuff him. He served his time, two years and eight months, but an assault on a public official is a barrier crime,” lead counsel Andrew Ward said. “After five years of great work as a counselor, when his employers really understood the ban, they were forced to fire him, and the punishment will last the rest of his life.”
DBHDS lists 176 crimes as “barrier crimes.” These crimes can prevent an individual from being hired for a direct care position.
“Judging Rudy and people like him on who were they 17 years ago instead of who they were today is not rational,” Ward explained.
A spokesperson for DBHDS told CBS 6 on Wednesday they do not comment on pending litigation.
But Ward noted the department itself has reported about the impacts of the law.
“The department admits, admits that this law is contributing to a shortage,” he said. “It has stated publicly it’s blocking people who have invaluable experiences.”
In fact, Ward said approximately 1,100 individuals were deemed ineligible to work for this department because of this law.
Carey now works as a truck driver but is fighting to return to the profession where he believes he could make the biggest impact.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC)has been working to change the barrier crime law for years.
“The issue of barrier crimes is an aspect of our criminal justice system that absolutely needs to be addressed. The most effective way of addressing this issue is through legislation. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has continuously made this a priority and we are working through the Barrier Crimes and Criminal History Records Checks Joint Subcommittee to get it done. While litigation is an important tool in criminal justice reform, we believe that changing the law is the most expedient way to make reforms clear, comprehensive, and stable. This reform is long overdue and it’s time we act promptly to address it through legislation,” VLBC executive director Adele McClure wrote in a statement.
Carey and his attorneys filed the lawsuit in federal court in Richmond on Tuesday. Ward said they’ll now have to wait to see how DBHDS responds to the case for their next step in court.
“I love to help people. There's nothing more priceless to me than to see people in my community, and they constantly say 'Thank you for what you’ve done in my life,' and, 'When are you coming back?'” Carey said. “All I can say is, 'I don’t know.'”