By all accounts, Sean Worsley is a war hero. He earned a Purple Heart, along with a laundry list of additional military accolades, for clearing roadside bombs in Iraq.He also earned a lifetime of post-service ailments, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). As a result of his injuries, Worsley was given a 100 percent disability rating from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. He treated the worst symptoms of both injuries with medical marijuana prescribed to him legally in Arizona.
Now, Worsley sits in an Alabama jail facing five years in the state’s notoriously violent prison system after admitting to an officer he was in possession of medical marijuana while driving through Alabama and a subsequent probation violation for missing a court date.
Worsley's ordeal began in 2016 when he and his wife, Eboni, were arrested late one night after stopping for gas. They were traveling through the state on their way to North Carolina, where they were planning on helping Sean’s grandmother repair extensive damage to her home after Hurricane Matthew flooded her community.
“We [were] not being competitive, we were being completely compliant,” Eboni Worsley told Fox News. “We’re being very cooperative, so not thinking that there’s going to be a major issue. … I show him I don’t want trouble, don’t mean any harm.”
Fox News reviewed dozens of court documents related to Sean’s case, including his Arizona Medical Marijuana Program ID card. His card was issued in 2016 and expired in 2017; it was current at the time of his arrest. His military service card also indicated that he is a permanently disabled veteran.
“Sadly, it’s not abnormal,” Isiah James, a veteran who works with the Black Veterans Project, told Fox News. "Sean told them, listen, I have PTSD, I have TBI, here’s my medical marijuana card. My marijuana is right there. The cops still don’t give a damn, the judge doesn’t give a damn. The court doesn’t give a damn because they don’t see any of that stuff. All they see is your blackness.”
Carroll, a professor of law at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Alabama, said a solution to Worsley’s case could be a Veteran’s Treatment court. The specialty courts operate in a similar capacity to drug courts, where prosecution and conviction take a back seat to treatment and rehabilitation. There were no treatment courts in Pickens County when Worsley was arrested in 2016.
He said that while the prosecutors have broad discretion as to how they charge and prosecute crimes, it may be too late to change the sentencing in Worsley’s case.
“We are about to put Mr. Worsley in prison, and he’s 100% disabled,” Carroll said. “He has to have a caregiver. … [There’s] no guarantee that if Sean was to go in the Alabama prison system that he’d get the care he needed to treat his PTSD and TBI.”
District Attorney Andy Hamlin, the prosecutor in charge of Sean’s case, wrote an unsolicited post to his Facebook page, defending the decision to jail Worsley and cited prior marijuana possession convictions as a reason to incarcerate the veteran.
“While it is true that Mr. Worsley is a decorated veteran of the United States military, it is also true that he is a criminal that has habitually broke the law in numerous states,” Hamlin wrote. “In fact, he is a three-time convicted felon, two of which were for Possession with Intent to Sell or Distribute a Controlled Substance in North Carolina.”
Hamlin’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Fox News. Similarly, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office did not return requests for comment.
Worsley has never been convicted of a violent crime or one against an individual victim. In Alabama, Hamlin said Worsley was arrested with numerous containers of marijuana, two grinders and a digital scale. The Worsleys consented to a search of their vehicle, Sean provided the officer his medical marijuana ID card and let the officer know there was pot in the car.
Leah Nelson, the researcher behind the Alabama Appleseed’s reporting on Worsley’s case, said the North Carolina crimes cited by Hamlin stem from a single incident in 2011 that “involved marijuana and an attempt to pass a bad check.”
Worsley’s incarceration was initially covered by the progressive advocacy group Alabama Appleseed. Their comprehensive article stoked outrage among the readers and helped a GoFundMe for the Worsleys’ legal fees exceed the initial $80,000 goal.
“It’s really challenging to come home and live in the civilian world,” Eboni said. “… Know it’s not a switch that they turn off because they are back on U.S. soil. And so to be traumatized all over again by the country you fought for makes it much worse.”You'll love our military & patriotic t-shirt collection! Click here to shop!