AL Town Backs Down on Closing Meetings to Outsiders

The mayor of tiny Paint Rock said council meetings were being closed to the media and all other non-residents, saying, “What goes on in Paint Rock is the business of the people who live in Paint Rock.” She changed her mind after she learned that such a move would be illegal–and unAmerican.

In what most cases would not be considered newsworthy, the Town of Paint Rock, Ala., held a regularly scheduled town council meeting Tuesday evening – and the gathering was open to the press and public. The town of 200 got national attention this week when the Jackson County, Ala., Sentinel reported that the council in the town 20 miles east of Huntsville had proposed closing its meetings to the media and non-residents and barring distribution of minutes and financial documents. Mayor Brenda Fisk said the meetings are not the business of outsiders. “What goes on in Paint Rock is the business of the people who live in Paint Rock,” she said. “I really don’t see the benefit for anyone outside of Paint Rock or who doesn’t own property here to come to these meetings.”

Fisk changed her tune after the Associated Press reported that her proposal contradicts the Alabama Open Meetings Act, and AL.com’s John Archibald wrote about the proposal in a column headlined, “Paint Rock, Alabama: The most unAmerican town?” She said she proposed the guidelines in January, but they were never approved. She said she was reacting to a media frenzy that ensued when Paint Rock moved to shutter their small police department. “It’s on me,” Fisk said. “I did it all. Nobody has approved anything. It is not policy.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police, Waffle House Defend Arrest of Alabama Woman

Police were called early Sunday by restaurant employees because a black customer, Chikesia Clemons, appeared drunk and had been asked to leave. A video of her arrest has gone viral. Police say they feared she was armed, and Waffle House said “police intervention was appropriate.”

Police and Waffle House corporate executives are defending police intervention at a Saraland, Ala., restaurant where a black woman’s arrest, captured on video, raised questions about mistreatment, reports the Associated Press. Police in the Mobile suburb said they responded when restaurant employees called to report that the woman, Chikesia Clemons, appeared drunk and had been asked to leave for bringing in what employees believed to be alcohol. When they arrived, witnesses told them that Clemons had indicated she might have a gun and might shoot people. A video shows three police officers wrestling her to the floor and arresting her while she and a friend complain.

In the video, one officer is heard telling Clemons he is going to break her arm. Police say the dispute began when Clemons and a friend disputed the company’s policy of charging an extra 50 cents for using plastic utensils to eat inside the restaurant. Clemons is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. She’s free on $1,000 bail. The NAACP has called the arrest troubling. Some has likened the incident to the recent arrest of two black men for trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks. In a statement, Georgia-based Waffle House said it had information that “differs significantly” from claims by the woman. “After reviewing our security video of the incident and eye witness accounts, police intervention was appropriate,” the statement said. The company didn’t provide any details.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are 1,700 Families Guilty of Most Crime in Mobile, AL?

Bill Hightower, a Republican candidate for Alabama governor, made the assertion in a recent debate. While criminologists say it generally is true that a small percentage of the population is responsible for a large percentage of crime, the politician had oversimplified and convoluted a 2003 study about school suspensions.

Do 1,700 families really account for the vast majority of crime in Mobile, Ala.? PolitiFact scrutinizes that assertion, which was made by State Sen. Bill Hightower during a recent debate among Republican candidates for Alabama governor. In replying to a question about school safety, Hightower said, “In Mobile, it’s something like 1,700 families (that) generate 80 percent of the crime. We know who those families are.” Mobile has a population of about 193,000, so is a small fraction of the citizenry responsible for eight out of 10 crimes? Maybe not. Hightower’s campaign later said he was citing a statistic about school suspensions, not crime–from data 15 years ago.

In 2003, the Mobile County district attorney found that just 1,500 of the 65,000 students in the district were responsible for 75 to 80 percent of serious school infractions. The district attorney then cross-referenced the students with home addresses to identify 1,200 households. John Tyson, the DA who did the research, emphasized the behavior did not constitute crime under a criminal justice definition. Still, criminologists were not surprised by the finding. “A small percentage of the population is responsible for a large percentage of crimes,” said James Alan Fox of Northeastern University. But PolitiFact concluded that Hightower flubbed his attempt to cite the data. His point was roughly related to the 2003 research, but he did not describe it correctly by oversimplifying and convoluting the research findings about school suspensions.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Weapon Used in Alabama Jailbreak? Peanut Butter

Inmates used the substance like paint to trick a greenhorn jailer into opening a door that led outside. “It may sound crazy, but these people are crazy like a fox,” said the county sheriff.

A dozen inmates escaped from an Alabama county jail on Sunday by using peanut butter as a paint substitute to change the numbers above a door and trick a new employee into opening another door that led outside, reports the Associated Press. “It may sound crazy, but these people are crazy like a fox,” said Walker County Sheriff James Underwood. He said the inmates changed the number above a cell to the number that identified the door leading outside the jail. When an inmate asked an inexperienced jailer to let him into his cell, the jailer was fooled into opening the outside door instead. The 12 then fled, throwing off orange uniforms and using blankets to climb over a razor-wire fence.

Inmates “scheme all the time to con us and our employees at the jail,” Underwood said. “You have to stay on your toes. This is one time we slipped up. I’m not going to make any excuses.” All but one of the inmates was arrested without incident within eight hours, Underwood said. The only serious injury was to an inmate who sliced his thumb climbing the fence, the sheriff said. The escapees were between ages 18 and 30 and faced charges ranging from disorderly conduct to attempted murder. The missing escapee, Bradley Andrew Kilpatrick, 24, had been jailed on drug charges.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Disputed Alabama Rape Allegation Leads to Suicide

University of Alabama student Megan Rondini, 20, complained that she was treated as a criminal after reporting that a prominent local man had raped her. After months of anxiety, she killed herself.

BuzzFeed explores the troubling case of Megan Rondini, an honors student at the University of Alabama who killed herself after reporting to police that she had been raped by an older man from a prominent Tuscaloosa family. The alleged crime occurred in July 2015, when T.J. Bunn Jr., 34, offered 20-year-old Rondini a ride home when he saw her leaving downtown Tuscaloosa alone. Rondini couldn’t remember how she ended up in his white Mercedes and then in his home. But she later told police that she was sober enough to know she didn’t want to have sex with him — and, she said, Bunn should’ve known it, too.

She went a hospital for a forensic exam and met with police after climbing out a window of Bunn’s home. BuzzFeed said Rondini never imagined that she would be cast as a criminal, or that investigators would view Bunn as the true victim. But that’s what happened. Bunn insisted he and Megan had consensual sex. Under Alabama’s archaic rape law, victims must prove they “earnestly” resisted their attackers, and the investigator who interviewed Rondini quickly decided she hadn’t fought back against Bunn — she hadn’t “kicked him or hit him,” he explained. His investigation would conclude that no rape occurred. After months of growing anxiety over the case, Rondini committed suicide in February 2016.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Wayne Douglas Bryan: Missing since 1995

Husband and father of two, Wayne Douglas Bryan was last seen on Coffee County Road 511 near New Brockton, Alabama on December 15, 1995. No one has seen or heard from his since. About the Case According to law enforcement officials, Wayne had eaten lunch with his wife at home the day of his disappearance … Continue reading “Wayne Douglas Bryan: Missing since 1995”

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Husband and father of two, Wayne Douglas Bryan was last seen on Coffee County Road 511 near New Brockton, Alabama on December 15, 1995. No one has seen or heard from his since. About the Case According to law enforcement officials, Wayne had eaten lunch with his wife at home the day of his disappearance … Continue reading "Wayne Douglas Bryan: Missing since 1995"

The post Wayne Douglas Bryan: Missing since 1995 appeared first on True Crime Diva.

from http://truecrimediva.com

Missing Person of the Week: James Aaron Toole

Each week True Crime Diva highlights a missing persons case that has little or no information available regarding the circumstances of disappearance. It is important that we also remember these victims regardless of how much time has passed.  This was supposed to be up on June 5, 2017, but for some reason when I scheduled it, the post … Continue reading “Missing Person of the Week: James Aaron Toole”

The post Missing Person of the Week: James Aaron Toole appeared first on True Crime Diva.

Each week True Crime Diva highlights a missing persons case that has little or no information available regarding the circumstances of disappearance. It is important that we also remember these victims regardless of how much time has passed.  This was supposed to be up on June 5, 2017, but for some reason when I scheduled it, the post … Continue reading "Missing Person of the Week: James Aaron Toole"

The post Missing Person of the Week: James Aaron Toole appeared first on True Crime Diva.

from http://truecrimediva.com

Alabama Bill May Test Legal Limits on Church Police Forces

Citing fear over church and school shootings, a megachurch near Birmingham seeks the right to “appoint and employ one or more persons to act as police officers to protect the safety and integrity of the church and its ministries.” The ACLU predicts that any law allowing a church-based police force would be struck down as unconstitutional.

Alabama may soon find out whether there are constitutional restraints against creation of church-based police forces, says the New York Times. A bill passed Tuesday by the State Senate would grant Briarwood Presbyterian Church near Birmingham the right to “appoint and employ one or more persons to act as police officers to protect the safety and integrity of the church and its ministries.” Supporters say the measure is necessary in increasingly dangerous times. Critics argue it is gratuitous and unconstitutional. If passed by the Alabama House, the bill would land on the desk of a brand new governor whose predecessor’s term came to a scandalous end this week. A 2015 version of the bill was left unsigned by Gov. Robert Bentley.

Briarwood has more than 4,000 members and schools for students from preschool through grade 12. A news release from the church noted that under state law, private universities already have the right to hire police officers, a provision the church aims to “mirror” with this new legislation. It cited fear over recent shootings at schools and churches. “What this bill would do is to grant to a church — a religious organization — what is quintessentially governmental police power,” said Randall C. Marshall of the ACLU of Alabama. He predicted the law, if enacted, would be struck down in federal courts.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Renewed Alabama Food Fight Pits Sheriff vs. Hungry Inmates

Alabama sheriffs are allowed to keep any excess money used to feed inmates. But the Morgan County sheriff, Ana Franklin, has been excluded under a 2009 consent decree after her predecessor, nicknamed “Sheriff Corndog,” was jailed for contempt for feeding inmates the hotdogs on a stick twice a day–and pocketing $200,000. Franklin will make her case in federal court on Friday.

Morgan County, Ala., Sheriff Ana Franklin wants a federal judge to let her keep as personal money any unspent funds that she receives for feeding inmates, reports AL.com. Although Alabama sheriffs in general are allowed to keep leftover food fund money, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office has been excluded because of claims Franklin’s predecessor underfed the inmates in his care. Franklin, who is embroiled in a legal battle with the Southern Center for Human Rights, is scheduled for a hearing at the federal courthouse in Decatur on Friday. The sheriff’s attorneys are expected to argue that a 2009 consent decree in a lawsuit against the county does not apply to Franklin and she shouldn’t be held in contempt.

The decree says the Morgan County Sheriff must spend all food funds on inmate meals. It was issued after Franklin’s predecessor was jailed for contempt. Former Sheriff Greg Bartlett was dubbed “Sheriff Corndog” because he profited more than $200,000 while inmates ate corndogs twice a day for weeks. The consent decree stemmed from a 2001 lawsuit against the county by inmates decrying conditions inside the jail. The Southern Center is arguing Franklin should not be allowed to keep any of the food funds and has included in court documents statements from inmates who describe inadequate food portions and unappetizing or hazardous servings. Inmates reported finding rocks, a nail and mold in food served at the jail.

from https://thecrimereport.org

AL Takes a Step Toward Ending Contentious ‘Judicial Override’

Alabama is the only state that permits judges to overrule a jury’s recommendation and sentence a defendant to death, a practice sharply criticized by the Equal Justice Initiative, an advocacy group based in the state. After gaining bipartisan approval by a House committee, a proposal to end the overrides moves on to broader legislative consideration.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a proposal to end the state’s controversial sanction of the death penalty judicial override, says the Alabama Political Reporter. Alabama is the only state that permits judges to overrule a jury’s recommendation and sentence a defendant to death. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, also jury unanimity in deciding on the death penalty – a change from the current law, which requires at least 10 members of the 12-person jury. “If it has to be unanimous to convict, it should be unanimous to sentence a person to die,” England said.

The bill now moves to the full House for consideration. A similar bill in the Senate – which doesn’t contain the unanimity language – was approved by committee last week and awaits a Senate vote. The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Ala.-based advocacy group led by Bryan Stevenson, has been a sharp critic of Alabama’s judicial override. It found that Alabama judges had overridden jury recommendations in capital cases 112 times since 1976. In nine out of 10 instances, judges have overridden jury verdicts of life imprisonment to impose death sentences. The group says about 20 percent of all death row inmates in Alabama got there by a judicial override.

from http://thecrimereport.org