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Democrat Mayor Walt Maddox sees what lawmakers and governor can’t

Bill Britt

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Politicos across the state are recognizing that the state’s Republican leadership is endangering their legacy by passing legislation to weaken current ethics statutes.

Gubernatorial candidate Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox early this morning called on Gov. Kay Ivey to veto the hotly contentious House Bill 317, which carves out a certain class of economic professionals who are no longer subject to the state’s ethics laws.

“I encourage Governor Ivey to veto HB 317,” said Maddox Thursday morning. “If she does not reject this attempt to further weaken accountability, it will reinforce Alabama’s standing as one of the most corrupt states in the Union.”

As Maddox, a Democrat who for 10 years has served as a leader of a conservative city, points out in a press statement Republicans who have egregiously violated the state’s ethics laws.

“In the last two years, the Governor, Speaker of the House, and House Majority Leader have left office for violating Alabama law, Maddox said.

However, the fix was in on HB317 even before the Alabama State Senate voted to approve the bill on Wednesday night. In a 15 to 14 vote, Senate Republican leadership, with aid from Gov. Kay Ivey and Bradley Arrant lobbyists, narrowly defeated lawmakers who understood the many problems inherent in the legislation that Maddox stressed in his press statement.

“It is moments such as this that define whether Kay Ivey will stand on the right side of history or whether she will conform to the corruptible forces of lobbyists and special interests,” said Maddox.

Lawmakers and long-serving public officials expressed dismay at how much energy and political capital Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh and Gov. Ivey expended on the bill. Several lawmakers voiced bewilderment at how passionately Republican leaders begged, cajoled and threatened just to pass legislation that wasn’t even on the radar a few short months ago.

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Maddox, who faces a challenge in June’s Democratic primary from former Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb, leads in all their latest polls and will likely face Ivey in the Fall elections.

The Alabama Senate announced sine die around 9:30 a.m., leaving only the House standing between Ivey and her signing the controversial HB317 that Maddox opposes.

 

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Huntsville police chief: Protesters “brought this on themselves”

Chip Brownlee

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Huntsville’s police chief and the Madison County sheriff defended the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters in downtown Huntsville Wednesday evening, claiming the demonstrators “came here for the fight, not us.”

Chief Mark McMurray said Thursday that demonstrators — whom he described as “anarchists” — “brought this on themselves” after refusing to disperse following the expiration of a permit at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening.

“We kept asking them to leave,” McMurray said. “They brought this — this group brought this on themselves. They came here for the fight, not us.”

Huntsville police, Madison County sheriffs deputies and state troopers with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and demonstrators Wednesday evening, injuring several people.

Video from the scene shows demonstrators in the aftermath of a peaceful Alabama NAACP rally peppered with rubber bullets and tear gas as law enforcement helicopters hovered overhead and police with guns moved among the rooftops in downtown.

One protester who was at the demonstration described her experience.

“After being forced into the park, the police boxed in the crowd and then shot tear gas behind us,” said Kelly Jovenitti. “I was forced to run into a cloud of it. Everything was chaotic. I couldn’t see. I know someone grabbed me and a medic was called. Some kind lady told me to take off my glasses and quickly rinsed my eyes the best she could.”

She said she has asthma.

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“I couldn’t breathe,” Jovenitti said. “My face was one fire. But the police were still coming. The gas was still coming. The rubber bullets were still coming. It sounded like a warzone.”

Jovenitti said she was not an anarchist. “I just love all people and believe we all should be treated the same,” she said.

McMurray said police felt they needed to clear the area before dark because protesters began donning protective equipment. Video shows a peaceful protest interrupted by police moving in.

“It’s darkness coming on, when we lose the fight,” McMurray said. “We have daylight, we win. It’s 90 minutes. It’s an unauthorized protest against the government. That’s what it is. That’s what anarchists do. This was not NAACP. This was a separate splinter group that took advantage of a peaceful protest and hijacked it to cause anarchy against our government. Their way is to cause damage, set fires, loot, pillage.”

He said law enforcement saw guns and other weapons among the crowd, though none appear to have been used. The police chief said two officers had minor injuries and were back at work Thursday, but that protesters threw rocks and water bottles at police cars, which he said counts as assaulting a police officer.

Protesters had bleeding wounds on their legs after being hit with rubber bullets, and a small child — less than four years old — was engulfed in tear gas Wednesday evening, according to AL.com’s Ian Hoppe.

“The whole tensions changed as they brought out more and more equipment, as they brought out the masks, the goggles and all of the bags started coming out,” McMurray said. “We didn’t change that tension.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, in a statement Thursday, said he supported law enforcement’s tactics Wednesday night.

“What occurred after the NAACP event was disheartening. A second event occurred, structured by people who were not part of our community,” Battle said. “They gathered at the courthouse to block the square and protest. This was not part of a permitted event, and there were no local organizers in charge, which becomes a public safety issue. Even so, police allowed the protestors time to express themselves before asking everyone to leave. Most complied, but others did not. Police were clear in their instructions and worked with the remaining protestors for more than an hour before using non-lethal irritants. The protesters had every opportunity to peacefully leave and they chose otherwise. The leadership of this second group is not our community.”

The first sign of any offensive action by protesters came after police deployed smoke and after trooper cars sped through the area, according to reporters at the scene, when the protesters threw water bottles at state trooper cars.

“How many warnings do you give before you lose your sunset?” McMurray said.

Huntsville has so far not imposed a curfew, but law enforcement declared the event an unlawful assembly after a city-issued permit expired at 6:30 p.m.

“I think that law enforcement needs to be very, very careful about what they’re doing and not anticipate violence,” said Sen. Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney. “I saw some people say last night in Huntsville that they were trying to prevent violence before it started, and you don’t do that, I don’t think, with gas and rubber bullets.”

Jones called for a “good, long review” and said images of snipers on roofs and children gassed were disturbing.

At least 24 people were arrested Wednesday evening, all of them from Madison County, the chief said. Twenty were arrested for disorderly conduct for participating in the “unlawful assembly.” But he also claimed that outside splinter groups agitated the crowd and “anarchists” organized the demonstration.

“The ones who stayed began donning all their protective equipment,” McMurray said. “They put on their eye protection. They put on their gas masks. They broke out their first aid kits, their water, their milk, their preparations for combat, and they stood their line, and they were confrontational with us.”

The police chief and sheriff said they were confident the protesters were an out-of-state splinter group because they saw cars with out-of-state tags.

“A lot of these people came in to ramp up the numbers of what happened Monday,” McMurray said, referring to the first time law enforcement deployed tear gas against protesters in Huntsville after a protest Monday evening. “They weren’t here for the NAACP. They were here for anarchist movements.”

McMurray displayed what he said was an anarchist poster found at the demonstration. He also showed photos of pipes and other materials, which he said were weapons stashed by the demonstrators, though none appeared to have been used.

Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner said police “did the right thing” Wednesday evening.

“We did the right thing last night,” Turner said. “At 6:30, when that permit was over, when they came to the square, we still showed patience and allowed them to march that square — when we could have initially just ended it. There is tensions across this country. We see it every single night on TV. It is a terrible thing, a terrible thing that happened to Mr. Floyd — terrible. But we’ve got to do the right thing. By doing these acts and coming into our town, or any town for that matter, and destroying it, it takes everything away from what happened. And we’re not going to allow that here in the city of Huntsville or in Madison County. We’re not going to do it.”

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Opinion | What happened in Huntsville Wednesday night was disgraceful

Josh Moon

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Law enforcement officers in Huntsville assaulted dozens of people Wednesday night following a peaceful protest and march. 

This is the accurate description of what took place in Huntsville. 

I don’t care what you heard on “the news” or what you read on Facebook or Twitter. That’s what happened. 

Following a peaceful protest downtown — for which the NAACP obtained a permit, because it planned to block traffic — dozens of protesters, gathered to speak out about police brutality of black citizens in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, began to march around the downtown area. 

This is their right. It is guaranteed by the U.S. constitution. 

Contrary to popular belief, and according to legal guidance posted by the American Civil Liberties Union, you do NOT need a permit to peacefully assemble. In fact, it is against the law for anyone — or any law enforcement agency — to prevent you from peacefully assembling in response to a breaking news event.  

And yet, that’s exactly what happened in Huntsville. 

Huntsville Police, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and — for some reason that no one could immediately explain — the Alabama State Troopers began firing tear gas and rubber bullets at people who were peacefully marching. 

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In attempting to explain why such actions occurred, Lt. Michael Johnson of HPD essentially admitted that officers acted improperly. 

He told TV station WHNT-19 that officers attempted to clear the area by telling the lawfully gathered crowd to disperse. When the crowd instead decided to exercise its right to assemble, Johnson said, officers began using force, including firing the rubber bullets at innocent men, women and children and spraying the crowd with pepper spray and tear gas. 

(Just a quick little FYI: Tear gas has been deemed a chemical agent and the Geneva Convention specifically bans its use in war. But it’s still legal for police departments to toss into peaceful crowds.)

Johnson said officers used force because they weren’t “going to roll the dice” and take a chance that the crowd could become hostile. 

Which — and while I’m no attorney, I feel comfortable going out on this limb — is not how the law works. You can’t impose force because you believe someone might break the law. Particularly when there is no evidence of that. 

And how do we know there is no evidence of it? 

Because Johnson just kept on talking during that interview, an interview led by WHNT’s Jerry Hayes, who was — and I’ll put this kindly — very police-friendly. As Hayes praised the police response and told everyone that the cops really had no choice but to clear the area by gassing children, Johnson explained just how well it had all gone. 

No officers were injured, Johnson said. No property was damaged, he said. They even had single-digit arrests/detainments, he said. 

So, again, law enforcement fired rubber bullets at peacefully assembled men, women and children who didn’t damage property, didn’t assault police officers and had every right to march on and alongside a public street. 

It’s not hard to understand why people are marching against police abuse. 

Democratic state Rep. Anthony Daniels, who represents the Huntsville area and who spoke earlier in the evening at the NAACP-organized event, compared the actions and the optics of the police attacking citizens to “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. On that day in 1965, Alabama State Troopers attacked a group of peaceful marchers because the marchers refused to disperse, and instead continued their march out of Selma towards Montgomery.

“I want someone to explain to me what the state troopers were doing at a peaceful event,” Daniels said. “What happened was a disgrace. That was a peaceful protest. Those people were following the laws and were not out of line.”

The same cannot be said for the officers. 

There are a number of videos of cops from various agencies firing tear gas canisters at people who are posing no threat, and in most cases are backing away from the officers, and randomly spraying down groups of people with pepper spray for no discernable reason. In one video that was viewed several hundred thousand times by late Wednesday evening, an HPD officer exits his patrol car, pepper spray in hand, and just starts strolling along, periodically dousing terrified people with the spray. 

It was disgraceful. It was ignorant. It was, most of all, simply wrong. 

There has been a lot of condemnation over the last few days of violent protests and criminal acts. And rightfully so. While many people understand and can empathize with the anger that lies beneath these protests, the majority doesn’t want to watch cities burn. 

I hope the same people who condemned those acts will also speak out against the violence committed by law enforcement in Huntsville on Wednesday.

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Crime

Marshall says Moody officer’s death was not related to unrest

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall (R) issued a statement on the line-of-duty death of Moody Police Officer Stephen Williams late Tuesday night.

“I was devastated to receive the phone call late last night that another one of our law enforcement heroes had lost his life,” AG Marshall said. “I have been slow to make a public statement today because, after a record-breaking year of law enforcement deaths in our state, words just seem so inadequate.”

“Sergeant Williams was responding to a call for help at local hotel,” Marshall said. “He showed up, ready to assist, and was instantly shot dead. At this point, we have no reason to believe that Sergeant Williams’s shooting is related to the unrest we’re witnessing across the nation. Nevertheless, our state has been plagued in recent months by a lack of respect for law enforcement—most of whom are genuinely good men and women, from all backgrounds, doing an incredibly difficult job.”

“Whether black or white, law enforcement or civilian, we are all Alabamians,” Marshall concluded. “None of us benefit from lawlessness. As I shared with Moody Police Chief Hunt last night, my prayers and deepest sympathies are with the department and Sergeant Williams’s family. My Office stands ready to assist in any way that we can.”

There are two suspects in custody, a man and a woman. As of press time their identities had not been released. A suspect is expected to be charged with capital murder today, their identity will be released then.

“The investigation into the death of Sgt. Stephen Williams of the Moody Police Department is ongoing. The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office, JSU Center for Applied Forensics, and ALEA, along with numerous supporting agencies are currently conducting an extensive investigation,” said St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray (R). “I would like to thank all of the assisting agencies who are too numerous to name who responded without hesitation to an Officer in need. I also would like to thank the citizens of Moody and all of St. Clair County for their outpouring of support for all Law Enforcement.”

Sources report that there was contraband found at the crime scene. Sergeant Stephen Williams and a police trainee were called to the scene by dispatch to the Super 8 Motel in Moody. They faced a barrage of gunfire almost immediately upon arriving at the scene. Multiple weapons have been recovered. Williams was later pronounced dead at UAB Hospital. An hours long standoff at the motel followed. Investigators were on the scene all day on Tuesday collecting evidence.

Stephen Williams served with the Moody Police Department for three years. During that time he was made a sergeant and led the Department’s night shift. Moody police chief Thomas Hunt said that Stephens won officer of the year. Stephens has 23 years in law enforcement experience with Moody, Bessemer, Alabaster, and Calera. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

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The Moody Chamber of Commerce announced that a Memorial fund has been set up for Sgt Stephen Williams at Metro Bank. You may make a donation at any Metro location.

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Chris Elliott selected for national 2020 Emerging Legislative Leaders Program

Brandon Moseley

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State Senator Chris Elliott (R – Daphne) was recently selected as a member of the 2020 Emerging Legislative Leaders Program.

The Emerging Legislative Leadership Program is a national group sponsored by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF) and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

“I am humbled and honored to have been nominated by Senate Leadership and selected by SLLF to represent Alabama in this prestigious program,” Elliott said.

Chris Elliott is serving in his first term in the Alabama Senate. He is a native of the Alabama Gulf coast. He is a graduate from St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond in Virginia where he studied political science and urban policy.

Elliott worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia in emergency management field and for Virginia Power in nuclear security and emergency preparedness. He returned home to Baldwin County where he is now a small business owner. Sen. Elliott is the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee. Elliott formerly served as the Chairman of the Baldwin County Commission and the Chairman of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization. Elliott formerly served on the Board of Directors of Baldwin County United Way.

Elliott has worked with numerous statewide and local political campaigns in both Virginia and Alabama. He is a former member of the both the Baldwin County Republican Party Executive Committee and steering committee. He is a member and past Chairman of the Baldwin County Young Republicans.

Senator Elliott and his family are members of St. James Episcopal Church of Fairhope where he served as an usher and served on the Church’s Vestry. Senator Elliott is an avid sailor, white water rafter and upland bird hunter.

The Emerging Legislative Leaders Program is a program for upcoming leaders in state legislatures from across the country. Up to 50 of the best and brightest state legislators come together to take part in a multi-day series of discussions and sessions led by professors at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

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Over 600 legislators have taken part in the program since its start in 2005, with many past members achieving leadership positions within their respective states.

“This leadership program provides an opportunity for collaboration with colleagues from across the country to share ideas and best practices to address complex public policy issues,” Elliott said.

The SLLF is a non-partisan, non-profit independent organization established in 1972 that represents all legislative leadership across the country and seeks to educate and inspire the nation’s current and future state legislative leaders to excellence.

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