By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
A little more than a year after a Montgomery Police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man – an act resulting in the officer’s indictment for murder – the Alabama Legislature is on the verge of mandating that the Montgomery City Council establish and publish procedures for investigating police misconduct.
A bill, sponsored by longtime Montgomery Rep. John Knight, that would require the guidelines, and also would establish that victims could seek compensation from the city, passed the Montgomery County House delegation on Tuesday. It will now head to the full House.
It is rare that a bill affecting only a local municipality and passed by that municipality’s delegation would draw opposition from other House members.
The legislation is in response to the MPD shooting of Greg Gunn and the public response to the city’s handling of that case and investigation. While many in Montgomery, particularly in the city’s minority community, cheered the efforts of Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey, who, along with the State Bureau of Investigations, arrested the officer, Aaron Cody Smith, community leaders and activists have been especially critical of the city’s response.
That response included a city-backed investigation – the results of which the city won’t disclose, because, according to Mayor Todd Strange, they “don’t want it prejudicing a jury” – and allowing Smith to remain on the MPD payroll but on leave.
City attorney Kim Fehl argued against Knight’s bill on Tuesday, telling the delegation that it could open the city up to additional lawsuits. She also said the city already has a policy for investigating police misconduct.
“I ain’t ever heard of any procedures for an investigation,” committee chairman Alvin Holmes said. “Where do y’all keep it? In Todd Strange’s back pocket?”
Asked repeatedly to provide a copy of the procedures or point lawmakers to it online, Fehl couldn’t.
“I don’t see what’s wrong with publishing the clear guidelines so everyone knows what they are,” Knight said. “If I’m a police officer, I want to know, what are the guidelines they’re supposed to use to investigate this. What’s wrong with everyone knowing what the guidelines are?”
Fehl also objected to the role of the city council, saying it would shift the power to conduct these investigations and review the findings from the mayor to the council.
Again, Knight questioned why that would be a bad thing – for “a council of elected officials to review this.”
In the end, the legislation passed on a voice vote. Rep. Reed Ingram, saying he believed the vote total was tied, attempted to call for a roll-call vote after Holmes declared the bill received a favorable report, but such a request had to be made prior to the vote. Holmes said he heard 4-2.