Connect with us

News

Former Sumter County sheriff pleads guilty to criminal ethics, drug charges

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

Published

on

A former West Alabama sheriff who was removed from office in 2016 has pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges.

Former Sumter County Sheriff Tyrone Clark pleaded guilty Monday to eight criminal charges including ethics violations and drug charges. He was removed from office in July 2016 by the Alabama Supreme Court after he was impeached for corruption and willful neglect of duty.

District Attorney Greg Griggers announced the plea after an investigation into the operation of the county jail under Clark and his dealing with inmates. Clark had been indicted by a grand jury on the criminal charges in August 2016.

Circuit Court Judge Eddie Hardaway Jr. will sentence Clark on Jan. 9.

“We have been dealing with this case for three years,” Griggers said. “It was never my goal to send Tyrone Clark to prison. My goal was to remove him from office, hold him accountable for his crimes and to get rid of what had become a sickness on law enforcement in Sumter County.”

But on Monday, Clark pleaded guilty to eight of the 10 counts on which he was indicted.

Six are felonies. Each carries a sentence of five years in prison, which was an agreed sentence, Griggers said. The other two are misdemeanors that carry a 12-month sentence. Hardaway, however, will determine the actual sentence.

Public Service Announcement

Clark pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful employment of county inmates, three counts of ethics violations for using his office for personal gain, one first-degree count of promoting prison contraband, another second-degree count of promoting prison contraband and a count of conspiracy to commit a controlled substance crime.

Prosecutors said Clark had jail inmates do work on two of his houses, and he charged inmates a portion of their earnings from working outside the jail without having an authorized work release program, with Clark pocketing the money. He is also accused of selling phone cards to inmates.

He was accused of providing an inmate with a gun and keys to escape the jail and allowing an inmate to come and go and to access a room where he could run a drug operation and engage in other illegal activities.

ADVERTISEMENT

Griggers said his office agreed to drop two charges, human trafficking in the first degree and perjury.

“In these kinds of deals, you don’t necessarily get everything you want, but you get what’s most important,” Griggers said. “We gave up on two counts in order to get a deal done that had him plead guilty to eight crimes.”

Griggers said he expects Clark to request probation in a pre-sentencing report before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, and Griggers’ office has agreed not to take a position for or against probation. The district attorney said his goal to remove Clark from office and hold him accountable for his actions has already been accomplished.

He had hoped to restore confidence in law enforcement.

“I am very pleased with the direction the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office is now moving,” Griggers said. “Clark was such a sickness on law enforcement. Getting rid of that problem has allowed the people of Sumter County a chance to get the sheriff’s office they deserve.”

 

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

Advertisement

Health

AARP’s COVID-19 dashboard shows Alabama nursing home lagging behind national averages

In each of five parameters Alabama fared worse than the national average.

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

A recently-released dashboard shows that Alabama’s nursing homes, residents and staff alike, are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s concern over what may happen in the coming days and weeks. 

“We know we’re moving into a very dangerous time right now, with flu season, and weather getting colder and people moving indoors,” said AARP Alabama spokeswoman Jamie Harding, speaking to APR on Monday. 

AARP partnered with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio in the creation of the dashboard, which in this first set uses data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to look at five parameters for the four-week period ended Sept. 20. 

In each of the five parameters — nursing home resident deaths per 100 residents, resident cases per 100 residents, staff cases per 100 residents, supply of personal protective equipment and staffing shortages — Alabama fared worse than the national average.

In the last month, there were 1.03 COVID-19 deaths among Alabama nursing home residents per 100 residents, tying with Mississippi as the second highest death rate in the nation, coming just behind South Carolina, which had the most, at 1.2 deaths per 100 residents, according to the AARP reports. 

As of Oct. 14, 45 percent of Alabama’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic were among nursing home residents, totaling 1,088 resident deaths at the time, according to the dashboard. For the four weeks ending Sept. 20, nursing home residents made up 48 percent of the state’s deaths. 

Harding also noted that by the time CMS publishes the nursing home data “it’s about two to three weeks old” so the public isn’t getting up-to-date information on what’s happening in nursing homes, but she said at least the AARP’s dashboard will show trends in the data over time. 

Public Service Announcement

“We want the state, we want our leadership to take this data seriously, to see that we are not performing well on these five metrics, which are very critical metrics, and we want to know how this is going to be addressed,” Harding said. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health has declined to release county-level or facility-level details on coronavirus in long-term care facilities and nursing homes, citing privacy concerns. 

“So that’s the problem, and Alabama has stubbornly refused to release daily reports, and remains one of just a handful of states still refusing to release the daily report, and we really have no good answer,” Harding said. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Harding also discussed a COVID-19 outbreak at the Attalla Health and Rehab, first reported by AL.com, in which the facility had to be evacuated due to a huge spike in cases there, peaking on July 10. Some residents were taken to a local hospital, while others were taken to Gadsden Health and Rehab and Trussville Health and Rehab, sparking an outbreak of COVID-19 at Trussville Health and Rehab. 

AL.com’s reporting noted that while at least 10 states have special strike teams ready to send staff and supplies to nursing homes experiencing an outbreak, Alabama does not. 

The new outlet quoted Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health as saying that the department doesn’t have the staffing to form such teams. 

“That is an indication that this was a problem they were never prepared for, and they should have been,” Harding said.  “They are the Department of Public Health. This is their work. This is their job.” 

Harding also said that as of at least the end of September, the Alabama Nursing Home Association hadn’t yet begun spending the $50 million in CARES Act funds, which Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Aug. 7 would be made available to reimburse state nursing homes via the hospital association’s Education Foundation for the cost of fighting against COVID-19. 

John Matson, ANHA’s spokesman, told ABC 33/40 reported on Sept. 28 that the funds were in a holding account and the first claims should be paid in early October. Matson said an accounting firm had been hired  to help handle the administration of the funds. 

Harding expressed concern that the federal aid wasn’t being spent to help protect state nursing homes quickly enough, and said that the Attalla nursing home outbreak was made worse by a staffing shortage as workers either became sick themselves or quit to protect themselves and their loved ones. Alabama nursing homes weren’t overstaffed before the pandemic, she said. 

“We would like to see some of that $50 million dollars spent to address staffing emergencies,” Harding said. 

Matson, in a response to APR on Monday, said that since mid-March, Alabama’s nursing homes have been in the center of a fight to defend the most vulnerable citizens of our state from the most insidious and infectious virus attack in the last century. 

“Every resource has been pushed to the extreme,” Matson said. “While critics have the luxury of creating dashboards generated from government databases, the caregivers of Alabama’s nursing homes have relentlessly fought day-by-day, risking their own health, to care for the residents who depend on us. Our people are heroes and our nursing homes have met an unprecedented challenge.” 

Matson said every dollar of the $50 million spent must be justified by documentation, every claim is to be audited by an independent auditing firm before reimbursements are approved and ANHA filed regular reports to the Alabama Department of Finance which are publicly viewable. 

ANHA’s report for September, filed Oct. 15, states that many facilities were just then become eligible to apply for some of those $50 million due to requirements that the facilities deduct from amounts claimed any other coronavirus aid the facility may have received from other sources, such as the “Medicaid COVID add-on of $20 per day per Medicaid patient, DHHS Provider Relief Funds; and SBA payroll Protection payment loans attributable to payroll, if any.” 

“Therefore, due to the application of these mitigants, many facilities are just now becoming eligible to apply for and receive funds,” the report reads. 

The September report also states that to guard against funds not being available “in the event of a second or later COVID-19 wave, the Foundation is holding back 25% of approved claims.” 

The report also says that 12 facilities as of Sept. 30 were approved for $6.5 million in claims, with $1.6 to be held back for possible future COVID-19 waves. As of Oct. 13, there were $10.4 million in pending claims filed by 65 facilities, according to the report, and there were $16.9 million on total claims paid or pending.

Continue Reading

News

Birmingham pays back $179 million in debt

This comes 9 years after Birmingham filed one the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history.

John H. Glenn

Published

on

Birmingham's skyline (STOCK PHOTO)

Birmingham has refunded $179 million in general obligation debt, securing the lowest interest cost for the city in decades and accruing $44 million in present value savings from bond refunding.

This comes nine years after Birmingham filed one the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history.

“When I became mayor in November 2017, it became apparent the city was not on sound financial footing,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “A key reason was the city was not paying into its pension at the level that was needed. Today, we have dramatically increased our payment to the pension. I want to thank the council for their support in this effort. We have reduced the cost of borrowing money and have strengthened our financial position.”

Bond refunding reduces the payments for debt service in the general fund by upward of $5 million per year for the next five years, allowing $13 million in real cash savings for commercial development use in the future.

Birmingham has now nearly doubled its contribution to its pension fund since the 2017 fiscal year.

The city’s commitment to increasing its pension funds, coupled with a focus on maintaining services and infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in its affluent downtown, has generated confidence in the city’s finances among rating agencies.

Four credit rating agencies — S&P, Moody’s, Fitch and KBRA — reaffirmed the city’s current ratings. A downgrade could have cost the city millions of dollars during the recent bond refunding and created bigger challenges for the operating budget.

Public Service Announcement

Birmingham’s Porter White & Company and Atlanta’s Terminus Municipal Advisors LLC served as municipal advisors for the city during the refunding phase.

Continue Reading

Elections

Adia Winfrey reports from campaigns trail

“We need your help to spread the word and continue reaching out to voters to help Democrats up and down the ticket,” Winfrey said.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Congressional candidate Adia Winfrey

The Nov. 3 general election is in less than two weeks, and Democratic congressional candidate Adia Winfrey is reporting back from the campaign trail.

“They say a picture says a thousand words, so I wanted to share a few shots from the campaign trail with you,” Winfrey said in an email to supporters. “We still need your support as we get closer to November 3rd. A poll released yesterday showed Senator Doug Jones with a huge lead among early absentee voters! This lets us know that what Democrats are doing is working, and we’ve got to keep the pressure on. Every day is Election Day!”

“We need your help to spread the word and continue reaching out to voters to help Democrats up and down the ticket,” Winfrey continued. “Make sure you tell your family and friends to get to their local courthouse for in-person absentee voting on any weekday between now and October 29th. Many counties are also hosting Saturday voting on October 24th, so look out for that option as well! Check with seniors in your communities and churches to make sure they’re able to get out to vote safely in this important election.”

Winfrey is running in the 3rd Congressional District as the Democratic nominee. She is challenging incumbent Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, who is seeking a 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to NBC News, more than 35 million Americans have already voted early and absentee. This is already more early and absentee votes than were cast in the 2016 election.

The Alabama Democratic Party said in a statement, “We’re only two weeks out from Election Day! We are proud of everything we have accomplished so far. From rebuilding of party to successfully pressuring counties into offering Saturday voting, we have already made history this fall!”

“We are going to spend the rest of this week pressuring other counties to offer their voters this same opportunity,” the ADP continued. “But we need your help. We’ve reached out to over 3 million Democrats across Alabama. We have prioritized reaching out to voters who traditionally never hear from us. Now, it’s time to put our GOTV plan into action.”

Public Service Announcement

Winfrey is a psychologist and native of Talladega. Winfrey has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilberforce University and a doctorate of clinical psychology degree from the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology. She is the founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People Through Empowerment) movement.

Election day is Nov. 3.

Continue Reading

News

Eula Battle, wife of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, has died

Battle announced the death of his wife and best friend, Eula Catherine Sammons Battle, in a statement Tuesday.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Eula Battle, left, and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, right.

Eula Battle, the wife of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, passed away Tuesday after a bought with cancer. She was 65.

Battle announced the death of his wife and best friend, Eula Catherine Sammons Battle, in a statement.

Eula was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on Sept. 29, 1955, to Dr. Robert A. Sammons and his wife, Calvert Sammons. She was the second youngest of five children.

She graduated of Huntsville High School, got a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wesleyan College. She worked 31 years as a schoolteacher. After her first year of teaching in Conyers, Georgia, Eula returned home to teach kindergarten in the Madison County School System. She was named Madison County Teacher of the Year in 2000 for her outstanding service and dedication.

Once Eula “retired” from public education, she went on to support and teach in the newly formed Greengate School, an academic program focused on students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

In 2010, she co-founded Free 2 Teach, a non-profit that supplies free school materials for local teachers. To date, Free 2 Teach has distributed more than $7 million in supplies and materials to Huntsville-area teachers.

Eula’s focus on education also influenced a mayoral initiative, the Mayor’s Book Club, where she championed businesses to fund more than 100,000 books for students in Title 1 schools. Eula and Tommy wanted children in need to be able to build their own personal libraries to hopefully instill a love of reading and learning.

Public Service Announcement

Eula campaigned with Tommy door to door on their dates when he was first running for mayor in 1988. She was instrumental in garnering public support for his subsequent bid for mayor in 2008 and tirelessly traveled the state when Tommy entered the 2018 governor’s race, always promoting Huntsville and gathering a network of more friends and fans along the way.

“Eula never met a stranger and those who had the honor of meeting and knowing her will miss her gregarious spirit, robust laughter and fierce devotion to family and friends. She was everyone’s favorite aunt, best friend, and enthusiastic cheerleader. Eula was a terrific cook, challenging Tommy’s culinary expertise, making mealtime at the Battle house a delicious affair.”

Eula was exceptionally proud of her son, Drew, and her two grandsons, George and Benjamin.

ADVERTISEMENT

She was actively involved in her community her entire life. She was a former member of the Junior League of Huntsville and Grace Club, was an active member of Trinity United Methodist Church, was selected as a participant in the Leadership Huntsville Class 26 and belonged to Alpha Kappa Delta, an honorary organization for women educators, and to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

She was honored by the Women’s Economic Development Council Foundation in 2014, received the DAR Founders Medal for Education in 2019, and received the 2020 Boy Scouts Whitney M. Young Community Service Award. In 2019 Athens State University established the Eula S. Battle education scholarship so she could have a hand in developing future teachers. In 2020, Eula was a White Linen and Wine Honoree for the Russell Hill Cancer Foundation.

Eula is survived by her husband, Tommy Battle; their son, Drew Battle and his wife, Lauren; grandsons, George and Benjamin; brothers, Dr. Robert Sammons (Louise), Dr. Calame Sammons (Dianne), and Bill Sammons (Laurie); a sister, Susan Sammons Sullins (Bill); and 12 nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be sent to Free 2 Teach or Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville. Laughlin Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said in a statement, “Martha and I extend our deepest heartfelt sympathies to the entire Battle family as they grieve the loss of Eula Battle. Eula’s tremendous legacy will be felt in Huntsville for decades as her kindness and charity ripple through the many lives she touched. May God’s peace be with the Battle family. Eula’s many loved ones can be assured she is now in a better place.”

Gov. Kay Ivey, “I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Eula Battle. She was a loving and supportive wife to Mayor Battle, and as he refers to her, his ‘best friend.’ I extend my deepest sympathies and prayers to their family in this hard season.”

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said, “The Tennessee Valley lost one of its most dedicated community leaders with the passing of Eula Battle. Eula devoted her life to teaching and provided her students with valuable lessons that they carry to this day. Kendall and I send our prayers of condolence to the Battle family.”

Speaker of the Alabama House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said, “Charitable acts and generosity were Eula’s trademarks, and her presence in the Huntsville community will be dearly missed. My wife, Debbie, and I lost a true friend with the passing of Eula, and I pray that God provides comfort to Mayor Battle and his family during this time.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement