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Albertville man indicted for illegal gun possession

Brandon Moseley

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An Albertville man who led police on a memorable chase over Lookout Mountain was indicted Wednesday for illegal gun possession by a federal grand jury.

Dennis Joh Johnson in April led police on a dangerous chase from Fort Payne into Menlo, Georgia on rural roads over Lookout Mountain. The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Marcus Watson.

Dennis John Johnson, age 43, received a one-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court for being a convicted felon in possession of a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol.

Johnson has prior felony convictions of second-degree assault in Marshall County Circuit Court in November 1997, unlawful possession of a controlled substance in Etowah County Circuit Court in June 2001, and third-degree robbery in Marshall County Circuit Court in April 2014.

“Felons with firearms will be charged with a federal crime, prosecuted in federal court, and, if convicted, do federal time in a federal prison where there is no sanctuary of parole,” Town said. “We are indebted to the brave officers who put themselves in harm’s way to end the car chase where this defendant endangered the lives of civilians and police officers.”

“ATF’s priority of reducing violent crime results in court actions such as this,” Watson said. “The use of Crime Gun Intelligence in working with our law enforcement partners is an effective resource to provide a safe environment for our communities.”

According to the police report, Johnson had the handgun with him when police arrested him on April 9 as he ran from a pickup truck he abandoned on Georgia Highway 48 in Georgia’s Chattooga County, According to a Fort Payne Police arrest report. Johnson jumped from the truck after fleeing police in Fort Payne and speeding away along U.S. Highway 11 to Hammondville. His flight took him onto Alabama Highway 117 and through Valley Head and Mentone before crossing the state line into Georgia.

Fort Payne officers had tried to pull over the pickup truck because the license plate was registered to a different vehicle, the police report said, resulting in the high-speed chase where speeds topped 100 miles per hour. Johnson ran vehicles off the narrow roads, swerved toward police vehicles and aimed his speeding truck at the Hammondville police chief, who was running across the road to deploy a stop strip. The first Fort Payne police vehicle in pursuit behind Johnson hit the stop strip and crashed, seriously injuring one Fort Payne officer.

The maximum penalty for a convicted felon in possession of a firearm is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

ATF investigated the case in conjunction with the Fort Payne Police Department, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and the Chattooga County, Ga., Sheriff’s Office.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan S. Keim is prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an accusation. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his peers. Johnson will have the opportunity to present his defense in court.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Clorox, anyone?

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

In less than 100 days, the state Legislature will return to Montgomery for the 2021 Legislative Session. As of now, there is no comprehensive plan on how to hold session safely: there is not even a rudimentary one.

But perhaps there is a reason to keep the statehouse shuttered as the Legislature seems to have forgotten the governing principles that the nation was built upon and hint, hint; it’s never was a slogan.

One individual at the statehouse said that there would be a vaccine by February, so why worry about holding Session as usual.

Perhaps this individual also believes that a disinfectant cure or a UV light remedy is right around the corner.

News flash, as of press time, intravenous Clorox and lightbulb suppositories are still in phase one trials.

Pandemic humor aside, the surprising thing would be if the Legislature actually had a plan at all.

There have been rumors of a plan, even mentions of one, too, but nothing that would allow lawmakers, lobbyists and the public to realistically gather to conduct the peoples’ business in a relatively COVID-19 free environment.

We all want a miracle, but miracles are outside of the legislative purview, and while prayer is needed at the statehouse, so is commonsense and a plan.

One plan in consideration is to limit the number of people who can enter the building. Bad idea, as the public has a right to witness government action and advocate for causes.

At the end of the truncated 2020 Session, the Legislature curtailed the number of people in the statehouse, which violates the law and good government spirit.

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Lawmakers come to Montgomery to do the peoples’ business; at least that’s what they say at campaign events and pancake breakfasts.

Of course, they don’t really conduct the people’s business in Montgomery; that just a figure of speech.

Legislators represent the people when they are running for office or giving chats at Rotary, but when most—not all— enter the statehouse, they work for special interests.

Yes, some do care, and all are convinced they are doing a great job, but just like the plan to open the statehouse safely on Feb. 3, it’s sadly an absurd pretense.

The majority of the Legislature is comprised of Republicans, which used to have a firm sense of what the party represented.

While I hate to offend my many friends, the current party couldn’t find the most defining principles of traditional governance in our nation with a GPS and a flashlight.

Let me humbly run down a short list of things that should matter in no particular order.

For the list, I will turn to the 2006 book American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia.

“Classical liberalism is the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and the press, and international peace based on free trade.”

Classical liberalism has nothing to do with modern liberalism and everything to do with our Republic’s founding. Classical liberalism underpins the Constitution’s foundation, Federalist Papers, and the vast majority of the founding generation’s ideology, which created our nation’s governing system.

Private property rights are fundamental to what Jefferson called the pursuit of happiness.

And guess what is an individual’s most precious piece of property? Their person. Yes, a person’s body and mind are an individual’s greatest possession. A person’s right to live freely with only a minimum amount of government intrusion is essential to happiness. The government’s job is not to tell us how to live, rather keep others from harming us, killing us our taking our stuff.

Every year Montgomery seems intent on an every expanding agenda to meddle in people’s private lives.

Real estate and other property is significant but can’t be thoroughly enjoyed if we are dead or in chains designed by the good intentions of the legislature. Lawmakers are not to be the central planning committee for the soul.

The government should promote a relatively unhampered market economy. Tariffs anyone? Trade wars? No one wins a trade war; everyone loses; winning simply means the other side lost more or gives up.

It’s like a bar fight. Nobody wins it because everyone gets beat up; just one got it worse.

How about the rule of law? I hear it talked about a lot, but the law must be just for everyone. If the law is applied unequally, is it really the law?

We hear a lot about second amendment rights as if that’s the big one. What about freedom of the press? Is that less important? As the nation’s second president John Adams said, “Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.”

The press is not the enemy of the people. Is there bias? Sometimes. Is there poor reporting? On occasion. But the real enemy are those politicians defame the media for not supporting their political agenda. An AR-15 is persuasive but trying holding a free county with a free press.

Freedom of religion is also paramount to our nation’s principles as free people have a right to worship without government interference or mandate. But believe me, some religious leaders would see a government-imposed religion as long as it’s the one they represent. I often wonder, does religion require a strong man or strong faith? Today it’s hard to tell. Like all rights take away the freedom to worship or not and the whole system of liberty fails.

Last but not least, international peace based on free trade. If a nation is making money by trading with another country, it doesn’t have a good reason to bomb it. Likewise, the bounds of capital are generally stronger than political ideology. Money may not make the world go around but lack of it can unleash terrible conflict between people and nations.

After this exercise in futility, I’ve decided I’m glad the Legislature doesn’t have a plan to open the 2021 session. Why bother? Because the very ideals that genuinely make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a reality are the ones at the greatest risk of being trampled on by the Legislature.

Clorox anyone?

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Crime

Opinion | A gruesome murder should point Montgomery in a new direction

Josh Moon

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Montgomery's skyline (STOCK PHOTO)

The facts of 17-year-old Luna Pantaleon’s death are hard to stomach. 

The Montgomery teen was beaten with a metal pole and left to drown in a ditch. Her face was so badly beaten, with so many facial fractures, that the exact cause of her death couldn’t immediately be identified. Her alleged killers are three 16-year-old girls. They reportedly went to McDonald’s after the murder and had smoothies. 

Those details were provided during a court hearing on Wednesday and reported by the Montgomery Advertiser. They are enough to cause you to pause while reading and take a deep breath. 

But these details are not the only ones that should get attention. 

The testimony of a Montgomery police detective who investigated the crime, and who interviewed the three girls who have essentially admitted to the crime, provided other disturbing details that paint a picture of the lives of Montgomery’s underprivileged youth. Lives filled with violence and firearms, with late-night fights and “hits” put out on houses by 10th-graders. 

This reality for many young people in Montgomery isn’t exactly a hidden secret. 

I can’t tell you the number of homeless teenagers I spoke with or tried to help while in Montgomery. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I had with middle schoolers who were in gangs, and who spoke openly about carrying handguns and other semi-automatic weapons. 

Don’t get me wrong. Montgomery is not the wild west, and every poor, Black person in the city isn’t part of a gang or spending their nights shooting at each other. 

But there is a level of violence and bad behavior that is growing and taking root in many communities. And it is happening because too many young people in those communities see no other viable alternatives. 

A never ending cycle of poverty and despair — a cycle that has lasted, in some cases, for multiple generations — has left them turning to other means of getting by, of finding love and acceptance, of finding guidance. No matter how misguided that guidance might be. 

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And every bit of it can be traced back to one problem: Education. 

Or, in Montgomery’s case, the lack of it. 

Segregation was common in all of Alabama in the 1950s and 60s, but few cities in America clung to it as tightly as Montgomery did. When the Brown decision came down, private schools in Montgomery started to pop up — at one point a record number of them. And as the population grew, so too did the cities and the school systems surrounding Montgomery. 

Current day, in 2020, Montgomery’s private schools are 90-plus-percent white. Montgomery’s public schools are 95-plus-percent Black. 

Those numbers have not changed much over the years. 

But even more problematic is that Montgomery’s public schools are also serving a disproportionate amount of low-income students. That most of the poor people in Montgomery happen to be Black is a simple byproduct of the racism that saw Black citizens denied work, denied decent business loans, denied home loans for certain areas and denied acceptance into most state universities. 

But having a high number of low-income students means fewer resources. Fewer involved parents. More students who struggle through no fault of their own, because working parents weren’t home to help with homework or they don’t have internet service or on and on and on. 

Now, repeat those problems for a few generations. And, well, you get the idea. 

Exacerbating the problem for Montgomery, though, is a screwed up funding structure that has left its schools funded at the state’s lowest allowable levels. There will be an opportunity for Montgomery residents to fix that during Tuesday’s election by voting to increase property tax rates in the county. 

It is money that is desperately needed. But that money alone will not solve the issues. Because we’re way too far down the line at this point for a few dollars to fix what’s broken in Montgomery. 

It’s going to take the entire community putting aside their differences and their finger-pointing and their hate and actually working towards solving the problems, instead of just constantly pointing them out. It’s going to require a whole bunch of people to stop believing that skin color somehow makes a child less worthy of a quality education or more likely to be a criminal. 

Mayor Steven Reed and several others have done a remarkable job to this point bringing together groups of people who have historically opposed any tax increases for the schools. He’s going to have to build on that goodwill going forward. 

Because while more money will certainly make a difference, it won’t put a parent in place. It won’t assure kids are getting quality medical care and mental health care. It won’t put food on the table at night or turn the broadband on. 

There will need to be more educational options opened up for adults. There will need to be more comprehensive options available in some communities. This will take time and money, and it won’t be easy.

But here’s the one thing I know: the overwhelming majority of people in this world, and in Montgomery, want to succeed. They want to take care of themselves and their children. They want their kids to receive a decent education. They want a good job and to pay their bills and sleep easy at night. 

If you show them a pathway to such a life, they will take it. 

The city didn’t arrive overnight at this place where 16-year-old girls are drinking smoothies after a gruesome murder and the road out of it won’t be a short one either. But passing this tax increase, and the community-wide dedication to this cause that it represents, is a damn fine start.

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Elections

Sen. Doug Jones addresses Auburn students

Republican Tommy Tuberville was also invited to participate, but declined.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones at a forum at Auburn University.

Wednesday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, addressed Auburn University students at a forum on the University campus.

“I am a Democratic candidate, but I am an Alabama Senator and that is what I have tried to be since I have been here,” Jones said. “I promised I would work across the aisle.”

Jones said that he has sponsored 22 bipartisan bills that were signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Jones and his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, were both invited to address the Auburn College Democrats and the Auburn College Republicans in what the two college groups hoped would have been a debate between the two Senate candidates, but Tuberville declined to participate.

“I really appreciate the Auburn College Democrats and especially the Auburn College Republican for inviting me,” Jones said. “I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here. I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”

“What you are seeing in the ads that are attacking me are simply not true,” Jones said.

Jones said that he does not support defunding the police, taking guns from Americans who like to huntm and he does not favor abortion all the way to the point of birth.

“I have been a strong advocate for our military,” Jones said. “I have been a strong advocate for farmers. Even though I do not serve on the Agriculture Committee, I have done more for Alabama farmers than any Senator has done since Howell Heflin who was on the Agriculture Committee.”

The students asked Jones what was his greatest accomplishment in the Senate.

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“That would by ending the Military Widow’s Tax,” Jones said.

Jones explained that the Military Widows tax only affects about 2000 people In Alabama, but it is a big deal for those military families. When a serviceman is killed the Pentagon pays a stipend to the surviving spouse. Many soldiers also purchased insurance for the possibility that they would not survive their service. Instead of paying both the survivor’s benefit and the insurance benefit, the VA subtracted the insurance benefit from the VA death stipend. The widows were only getting about 55 cents on the dollars they had expected. Every year the Gold Star wives came to Washington and asked for that change in the law and every year Senators would pat them on the back and then choose finances over repealing the tax and doing what was right. For 27 years the gold star widows had made this a priority and nothing got done. Jones did not know about this until he got to the Senate, but when he found out he reached across the aisle and sponsored a bill with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to end the tax. Eventually the bill had 82 co-sponsors and it got passed.

“It is not the voting rights act, it is not the civil rights act, but for those widows it meant $1200 a month,” Jones said.

The students also asked Jones what was his greatest mistake.

“Voting for Bill Barr,” Jones said on confirming Barr as Attorney General. “I was so disappointed. I feel sorry for Jeff Sessions. I disagree with him on a number of policy issues, but I don’t think that he deserved the hits he was taking. I knew Bill Barr from his previous service. I thought he would be an independent voice and he hasn’t.”

“I voted on the best information I had and I was wrong on Barr,” Jones said. “I can defend every vote that I made. What I do in the United Senate is not about politics it is about service.”

Jones was asked if he favored ending the filibuster when Democrats win control of the Senate.

“No, I have too much respect for the Senate,” Jones said. “I don’t think Joe Biden will do that at least he won’t start that way. He has too much respect for the history of the Senate as an institution. I want to try to get the Senate back to the way it was.”

The students asked if he favored the Democrats using their new power to pack the Supreme Court with liberal justices.

“Nope,” Jones replied. “This goes back to the filibuster. We can’t start tearing down institutions because we don’t like some decision they make.”

Jones said that many Americans wanted to do the same thing when the Court seemed to liberal with the Warren Court in the 1960s.

“Right now packing the court is not something I would be in favor of,” Jones added. “At the end of the day you never know what is going to happen.”

“We always talk about I just want the courts to call balls and strikes; but it is not a baseball game,” Jones said. “Intelligent people disagree about the law and the rule of law.”

“The goal is to find common ground,” Jones said. “Frankly, Tommy Tuberville cannot do that. A football coach is trained to beat the other side; not work with them. On the radio he calls them communists and socialists. I have two and a half years of working with them. He can’t do it. It is not about good and evil and we need to stop thinking in those terms.”

The students asked if farmers should be given some relief from new regulations on the environment.

“I have been a huge proponent of agriculture,” Jones said. “The current USDA has been helping the biggest farmers and not Alabama farmers. The tariff wars hurt the Alabama farmer.”

“It is going to be a challenge to work it out,” Jones said. “It is in their best interests that we do something about the climate. I believe the science and so do farmers.”

Jones urged everyone to have faith in scientists.

“Trust them please,” Jones said. “One of the most frustrating things I see these days and we see it in climate and I see it in the pandemic is that we have got to trust our scientists.”

Jones said that is true of both the climate and the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have consistently said don’t believe what politicians say about this pandemic not unless they are repeating what the scientists say,” Jones said. “This next six months could very well be worse than the past six months.”

“We have got to trust them,” Jones said of the scientists. “If the doctors at the FDA approve the vaccine I will trust the vaccine. We need to list to the scientists at the FDA, the CDC, the NIH, at UAB, and what the companies say about the vaccine.”

Jones was asked what could be done to prevent the Russians, Chinese, and Iran from interfering in our elections.

“We have the technology to do it, we have the will to do it; but we need an administration who will do it and If you think I am knocking the Trump Administration I am,” Jones said.

Jones was asked how we can move beyond partisanship.

“It is a lot more partisan outside of D.C. than in D.C.” Jones said. “People vote for partisanship. It is your vote that will change it. Your generation can change it. You need to tell your leaders that we want to hear issues we want to hear politics.”

Jones said that he favored delisting marijuana from the banned drug list and making it legal for people with legal marijuana to cross state lines without going to jail for it.

Jones was asked what we can do to fight the opioid crisis.

“We can’t prosecute your way out of it, though there is a role there with the prosecution of doctors for running pill mills,” Jones said. The civil lawsuits against drug manufacturers is a start, we need to be doing a better job of educating people and we have got to get mental health help to those who need it.

“There is a reason that people have to stand up and say Black lives matter,” Jones said saying that too many Blacks are killed by police.

On trade, Jones said that he is not an isolationist. “We (Alabama) needs those foreign markets. We are an exporting state. We are the third largest exporter of automobiles in the country; where are we going to send them> can’t send them? Mississippi?”

Students asked Jones if he favored repealing the Patriot Act.

“I don’t think that is going to come up,” Jones said. “When it comes up for renewal, we will tweak it. I have had concerns about it; but at the end of the day that is something that we have to constantly monitor. We will not repeal it.”

“I am very concerned about what we are going to do about healthcare if the ACA is declared unconstitutional,” Jones said.

Jones predicted that debate on healthcare, “Will dominate the next Congress.”

“The state made a huge mistake when it did not expand Medicaid,” Jones said of healthcare. “I am not for Medicare for All, but I do think that there should be a public option.”

Jones was asked about the Governor’s plan to lease/build three new megaprisons.

“The Trump administration really issued a scathing report on the state’s prisons, that really surprised me,” Jones said. “I don’t like privatizing the prisons or the post office. We had convict labor in this country for a long time and it was horrible.”

Jones said solving the state’s prison problems requires money and nobody wants to raise taxes. “Everybody wants to lock them up; but it costs money.”

Due to coronavirus concerns and maintaining the proper social distancing, Wednesday’s event was limited to just five news reporters.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: George W Bush inherited a $5.6 trillion debt from the combined 42 presidents who went before him. Barack H. Obama inherited a $10.8 trillion debt from W. Bush. Donald J Trump inherited a $20 trillion debt from Obama. The next President, whether it is Trump.for a second term or Joseph H. Biden, is getting a $27.2 trillion debt plus a coronavirus stimulus package at the end of this month that make it close to $30 trillion by inauguration. When is there going to be a plan put in place to prevent the national debt from passing $40 trillion by the end of this decade?

“We have got to get out of this crisis first,” Jones said. “George W. Bush spent trillions fighting wars without paying for them while cutting taxes and this president has done the same think and now those tax cuts are coming home to roost.”

“I am not going to start looking at this until after the coronavirus crisis is over,” Jones said. “Part of the reason that revenues are down is because people are not working and paying taxes. If we don’t get this solved we could end up owing $50 trillion.”

Jones told reporters that he is running neck and with Coach Tuberville approaching Tuesday’s general election.

“I am not going to guarantee a win and I am not going to guarantee that we are not going to win,” Jones said.

Polls open on Tuesday at 7:00 am and close at 7:00 pm central standard time. You must have a valid photo ID in order to participate.

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National

Today is the last day to vote absentee in person

Some offices may close early due to Hurricane Zeta. Play it safe by going early.

Brandon Moseley

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An absentee ballot application.

If you were planning to go to the courthouse to go vote ahead of election day, then you need to do it by Thursday, which is the last day to vote in person absentee in Alabama and the last day to request an absentee ballot.

To vote in-person absentee, find and go to your local election manager’s office. [Locations by county can be found here.]

You must have a valid photo ID to participate in any Alabama election, and you have to be a registered voter in Alabama. If you are not already registered to vote, while you can still register, it is too late to register to participate in this election.

Voters who do not have a valid photo ID can get a free voter ID from their local board of registrars or the secretary of state’s office.

When filling out your absentee ballot request, check the box that applies to your situation, or, if you’re voting absentee because of COVID-19, select “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

No additional proof other than a valid photo ID is required. Then you can receive, fill out and turn in your ballot. Some offices may close early due to Hurricane Zeta. Play it safe by going early.

If you have an absentee ballot already, get it in the mail as soon as possible or hand deliver it to the election manager. If you miss today’s deadline to request an absentee ballot, you can still vote in person, like most people, at your assigned polling place on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The state accepts a number of current photo IDs including:

  • Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Digital Driver’s License
  • Valid Alabama Nondriver ID (not expired or has been expired less than 60 days)
  • Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Digital Nondriver ID
  • Valid Alabama Photo Voter ID Card
  • Valid State-Issued ID (Alabama or any other state)
  • Valid AL Department of Corrections Release – Temporary ID
  • Valid AL Movement/Booking Sheet from Prison/Jail System (Photo Required)
  • Valid Pistol Permit (Photo Required)
  • Valid Federal-Issued ID
  • Valid US passport
  • Valid Employee ID from Federal Government, State of Alabama, County, Municipality, Board, or other entity of this state
  • Valid student or employee ID from a public or private college or university in the State of Alabama (including postgraduate technical or professional schools)
  • Digital student ID from a public or private college or university in the State of Alabama (including postgraduate technical or professional schools)
  • Valid student or employee ID issued by a state institution of higher learning in any other state
  • Digital student ID issued by a state institution of higher learning in any other state
  • Valid Military ID
  • Valid Tribal ID.

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