Newly released emails show the dispute between The University of Alabama and Hugh Culverhouse Jr. began at least four days before Culverhouse called for a boycott of the school following the state’s passage of restrictive abortion legislation.
University officials said in a statement they considered returning Culverhouse’s donation, the largest financial gift in the University’s history, and remove his name from the law school because of Culverhouse’s demands regarding law school operations.
The emails, released by The University of Alabama System, show that Finnis St. John, chancellor of UA System, made the suggestion to return Culverhouse’s $21.5 million donation on May 25, four days before Culverhouse spoke out about the abortion legislation.
An email on May 24 to UA President Stuart Bell showed that Culverhouse requested the return of $10 million he paid ahead of scheduled payments because he was not pleased with candidates for an endowed chair position in his name. Culverhouse also made demeaning remarks in the email about Law School Dean Mark Brandon.
“I wanted a renowned Constitutional law professor,” Culverhouse said in the email. “Someone to make academic waves…These are nice additions to a 3880 faculty with an insecure dean-but they are hardly nationally stature constitutional law figures. I believe Mark, you and I come from different concepts. I want the best law school, not a mediocre law school, whose ranking is a simple mathematical manipulation. I also know you have never dealt with a gift of my size-either for endowed professor or for a something as large as to change the name of the law school. You are unprepared. Mark will always be a small town, insecure dean. The outside world frightens him.”
Along with the emails, UA System released a statement reiterating that the dispute between the university and Culverhouse had nothing to do with his comments on the Alabama abortion legislation and was the result of Culverhouse attempting to interfere in law school operations.
“Our decision was never about the issue of abortion,” the UA System statement reads. “It was always about ending the continued outside interference by the donor in the operations of the University of Alabama School of Law. As the attached emails factually establish, the donor attempted to influence:
- Student admissions;
- Scholarship awards;
- The hiring and firing of faculty;
- The employment status of the law school dean
The donor even sought to shield these emails from public view for reasons that are now obvious.”
Culverhouse issued a statement after the release of the emails, saying the emails show that the decision was made after his comments on the recent abortion legislation.
“I am glad the University of Alabama School of Law decided to release emails showing my communications with Stuart Bell and Mark Brandon,” Culverhouse said. “The emails further prove that UA returned my $21.5 million donation as retaliation for calling on students to reconsider attending a university that advocates a state law that discriminates against women and is unconstitutional. On my last email to UA officials on May 25, I requested the return of the $10 million I had paid well ahead of schedule with the intention of returning to the original payment schedule.”
Culverhouse added that he felt compelled to take a stand and call for a boycott, citing that his father was an officer of Planned Parenthood, and said he heard no talks of the university possibly returning his donation until after he made his public comments about the state’s abortion legislation and the call for a boycott of the university.
“The call for the boycott is unrelated to the issue discussed in the emails,” Culverhouse said. “Let me be clear, I never asked UA for the full $21.5 million to be returned nor did I hear UA officials discuss that option until after I called for the UA boycott on May 29.”
Culverhouse wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post on June 7, titled “I gave the University of Alabama $26.5 million.They gave it back when I spoke out about abortion,” claiming the university made their decision to return his donation because of his abortion comments.
A statement from Kellee Reinhart, senior vice chancellor of community relations for UA system, said Culverhouse’s claim was untrue.
“The action taken by the Board today was a direct result of Mr. Culverhouse’s ongoing attempts to interfere in the operations of the Law School,” Reinhart said. “That was the only reason the Board voted to remove his name and return his money. Any attempt by Mr. Culverhouse to tie this action to any other issue is misleading and untrue.”
The University of Alabama Board of Trustees voted on June 7 to return the $21.5 million donation back to Culverhouse and remove his name from the law school.
Prisoners quarantined at formerly closed prison kept in unconstitutional conditions, groups say
Conditions are so bad that inmates have been forced to urinate and defacate on themselves because restrooms are not accessible, the complaint alleges.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is violating the constitutional rights of inmates being quarantined in deplorable conditions in the previously decommissioned Draper prison, several civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the state’s prison commissioner.
The ACLU of Alabama, the Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed and other groups in a letter to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday detail those conditions, which include no indoor toilets or running water, repeated power outages, deprivation of regular showers and the requirement of incarcerated men to urinate in “styrofoam cups and plastic water” bottles.
“These conditions fail to meet the most basic constitutional standards and present a substantial risk of serious harm to people already suffering from a potentially fatal disease,” the letter reads. “We therefore request that you immediately cease using Draper to house and/or quarantine COVID-19 patients, and instead house them in medically appropriate settings in accordance with Eighth Amendment standards.”
The groups note that Draper was closed after the U.S. Department of Justice, during its investigation of violence in Alabama prisons, noted Draper as exceptionally “dangerous and unsanitary” with “open sewage” near the entrance, rat and maggot infestations and “standing sewage water on the floors.”
In October 2017, the Justice Department informed ADOC of the department’s shock at the state of the facility and a month later ADOC’s engineer concluded that Draper was “no longer suitable to house inmates, or to be used as a correctional facility,” the letter states.
ADOC reopened a portion of Draper earlier this year to house incoming inmates from county jails being quarantined amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the civil rights groups note in the letter that ADOC failed to indicate plans to also use a classroom without bathrooms, running water or adequate medical care at Draper to house COVID-19 patients from other state prisons.
The groups allege in the letter that approximately 15 cots are located in the approximately 500 square feet former classroom, where at any given time between 5 and 15 inmates are being kept. The only restroom facilities the men can use are portable bathrooms outside, and the men have to “bang on the classroom windows to get officers’ attention.”
“Though officers sometimes escort the men when asked, they decline at other times and fail to maintain a schedule; thus, the men do not have access to bathroom facilities when needed,” the letter reads, adding that the men aren’t allowed to use the outdoor restrooms between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“We have further reason to believe that one man was permitted to use the bathroom only three times during a 13-day quarantine. Another man was not taken to the bathroom until his third day at Draper, while another was forced to urinate on himself on multiple occasions after being denied bathroom access,” according to the letter. “One man suffering from diarrhea was forced to wait hours to use the restroom to defecate. Many others could only relieve themselves into styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, portable urinal containers, or trash cans.”
“They had to hold onto urine-filled bottles for hours at a time until they were allowed to leave the classroom to empty them. It is also our understanding that some men held in these conditions did not receive bottles at all; correctional officers simply told these men that they were ‘out of luck,’” the letter continues.
The letter also details instances of alleged inadequate medical care, including a man who was sent to a local hospital with heart attack symptoms after not receiving his heart medication for several days.
The groups are also unaware of any Inmates leaving Draper who were tested for COVID-19 before being returned to Elmore and Staton prisons, the letter also states.
“We also have reason to believe that many of the symptomatic men at Staton and Elmore have not reported their symptoms to prison staff for fear of being held at Draper in the deplorable conditions described above,” the letter continues.
APR has learned from several sources in recent weeks, who asked not to be identified because they have loved ones in Alabama prisons and are fearful of retributions for speaking out, that many inmates who have symptoms of COVID-19 aren’t reporting those symptoms to prison staff for fear of being quarantined. Those family members are concerned that the disease is spreading much more broadly in Alabama prisons than is known as a result, putting their loved ones at greater risk of contracting the deadly disease.
Many of the concerns expressed in the letter were first reported by AL.com reported on Sept. 13, which found that access to medical care in Draper is limited and the conditions unsanitary.
In a response to AL.com’s questions for that article, an ADOC spokeswoman wrote that inmates at Draper have access to “medical and mental health care, telephones, law library, mail services, and showers.”
“Please remember — Inmates remanded to our custody have been convicted of a crime and handed a sentence to serve time as determined by a court. The unfortunate reality is that he or she, as a result of the crime committed and subsequent conviction, loses his or her freedoms,” ADOC said in the responses.
“This response is unacceptable as a matter of principle, and inadequate as a matter of law,” the letter from the civil rights group states.
“As ADOC knows, the fact of a criminal conviction does not strip incarcerated people of their rights under the Eighth Amendment, nor does it relieve ADOC of its constitutional obligations to the people in its custody, which are to provide them with ‘humane conditions of confinement,’ ‘adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,’ and ‘reasonable safety,’” the letter continues.
On Sept. 16, ADOC reported that there have been 403 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, 21 deaths of inmates after testing positive for COVID-19, and 375 cases among prison staff. Two prison workers have died from COVID-19, ADOC previously said.
As of Sept. 14, there had been 1,954 inmate tests for coronavirus, out of the approximately 22,000 state inmates, according to ADOC.
ADOC on Sept. 16 said that on Thursday the department was to begin rolling out a plan to provide free COVID-19 tests to ADOC staff and contracted healthcare staff using fixed and mobile testing sites.
“In addition, we will test all inmates in facilities that house large numbers of inmates with high risk factors as an enhancement to our current testing protocols,” ADOC said in a press release.
Study: Those with COVID twice as likely to have dined in restaurants
“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten in restaurants, which builds upon known factors about how the disease is transmitted, experts say, but the study has limitations.
The study surveyed 314 adults in 10 states and found that those who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten at restaurants within the previous 14 days. Researchers found that there was no significant difference between those who tested both positive and negative and who said they had gone to gyms, coffee shops, used public transportation or had family gatherings.
“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes.
Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist and associate professor at UAB’s School of Public Health, told APR on Wednesday that the study lends evidence to what the medical community knows are potential risks for contracting COVID-19, which include being indoors and unmasked, but there are nuances to each of those activities that can either increase or decrease that risk.
The study did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, and infectious disease experts say being outdoors decreases the risk of contracting COVID-19.
“It’s also hard to know what policies are in place where these people were recruited from for this study,” Hidalgo said. “Whether they’re required to be masked or if there’s a decreased capacity in a restaurant.”
Monica Aswani, assistant professor at UAB’s School of Health Professions, said she would be cautious about interpreting the study through a causal lens.
“People who are willing to dine in restaurants are also likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as not wearing masks. Since this is a survey, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the source of exposure was restaurants without contact tracing to supplement it,” Aswani said. “Likewise, respondents may have misreported their behaviors, given the sensitive nature of the questions. The authors note this as a limitation and highlight how participants were aware of their Covid-19 test results, which may have influenced how they responded.”
Aswani also noted that the questions about dining did not differentiate between indoor versus outdoor seating, “which represent different levels of risk to exposure.”
“Participants who visited a restaurant on at least one occasion, regardless of the frequency, are also considered similar. Consequently, in the two weeks before they felt ill, someone who dined on a restaurant patio once and someone who ate indoors at five different restaurants are indistinguishable in their data,” Aswani said.
Hidalgo said that while there are clear limitations to the CDC’s study, the findings do back up what the medical community knows about the transmission of the disease.
“I would very much look at this from the big picture perspective, and say we know that indoor activities are an increased risk for COVID-19. This study lends evidence to that,” Hidalgo said.
Alabama Democrats: Tuberville doesn’t have a plan or experience
The Alabama Democratic Party on Wednesday released a statement slamming Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville for not commenting on Hurricane Sally.
Tuberville is challenging U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.
“Tommy Tuberville said he didn’t have a clue how to address the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, so it isn’t surprising that he hasn’t offered a single word for the Gulf Coast in the face of a life-threatening storm,” said Wade Perry, the executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party. “He doesn’t have a plan or the experience to tackle an actual crisis. Unlike our own U.S. Senator Doug Jones.”
The Jones campaign has seized on the “Tommy Tuberville does not have a clue” narrative, trying to make the argument that Tuberville, a career football coach who has never held a public office before, lacks the experience necessary to represent the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate.
Jones used that line several times at a Labor Day appearance in Leeds.
“Senator Jones was on the ground in Lee County after devastating tornadoes and worked across party lines to secure emergency relief for farmers and families in the Wiregrass,” Perry said. “He will always be there to help Alabamians navigate a crisis and save lives— he always has, and always will.”
The Tuberville campaign disputed the ADP narrative.
Hurricane Sally devastated Dauphin Island in Mobile County as well as Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan in coastal Baldwin County when it came ashore as a category two hurricane with 105 miles per hour winds.
Sally then inundated South Alabama, West Florida and Georgia with heavy rain, leading to localized flooding. Several roads were closed on Thursday across South Alabama due to flooding including in Troy, Andalusia and Opp.
Almost 200,000 Alabama homes lost power due to the storm. Alabama Power crews are still working to restore power to customers who lost power.
Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election. This was the only time that a Democratic candidate had won any statewide race in Alabama since 2008.
Jones and his allies led an effort to topple the then-existing leadership of the Alabama Democratic Party in 2019. The new chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, is trying to make the case that times have changed and the state has two viable political parties.
Republicans are targeting Jones, a Democratic senator representing a very red state. Democrats are hopeful that they can hold Jones’ seat and take control of the U.S. Senate.
Trump urges Republicans to accept bigger COVID stimulus to get compromise
President Donald Trump reportedly urged congressional Republicans to go for “much higher numbers” in a coronavirus aid bill. The president and his team are trying to end a deadlock over coronavirus economic relief ahead of Congress breaking for the Nov. 3 elections.
House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion coronavirus aid package in the Heroes Act earlier this summer. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin presented a $1.1 trillion aid package in August, which Democrats rejected.
After the Senate returned from their Labor Day recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, brought a $300 billion “skinny” coronavirus aid package up for a vote. No Democrats supported the GOP package.
“Every Senate Democrat just voted against hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID-19 relief,” McConnell said. “They blocked money for schools, testing, vaccines, unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program. Their goal is clear: No help for American families before the election.”
Democrats demanded a bigger package.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, told reporters that McConnell’s paired-down bill was a “political stunt” and did far too little for individuals, businesses, schools and local governments.
Democrats continue to insist on a bigger bill and now Trump is pushing Republicans to accept a bigger deal.
“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, have expressed optimism this week. Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement they were encouraged and hoped White House negotiators would now “meet us halfway.”
A coronavirus relief bill of over $2 trillion is reportedly being discussed, and Republicans are divided on this.
Some Senators favor passing stimulus and some, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, oppose any stimulus, citing concerns about adding trillions more to the ballooning budget deficit.
Paul was the only Republican to vote against the skinny stimulus because he opposes even that small package.
Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, said that the plan should stay in a “realistic” range. “As you go upwards from there ($1 trillion) you start … losing Republican support pretty quickly,” he said.
Thune said there was some Republican interest in the $1.5 trillion package presented this week by the Problem Solvers Caucus, but not in the $500 billion in bailouts for state and local governments.
“So the president has his opinion, we have ours,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, arguing that the package should not be above $300 billion.
But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said something needed to be done, although “well below 2 trillion.”
Advocates for businesses and state and local governments impacted by the coronavirus global pandemic say that without more federal aid they were going to have to start laying off people.
Some economists fear that more business closures and layoffs this fall could hurt the economic recovery, especially if there is not a coronavirus vaccine this year.
The Congress has already passed over $3 trillion in coronavirus aid, all of it paid for with deficit spending.
The national debt is $26.8 trillion. Adding another $3 trillion to the debt for another aid package will likely lead to the debt topping $30 trillion in the next six months no matter who is elected in November.