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Ivey signs civil asset forfeiture law

Evan Mealins

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On Monday afternoon, Gov. Ivey signed into law the Alabama Forfeiture Information Reporting Act, which will shine a light on law enforcement’s often secretive use of civil forfeiture. Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed both the House and Senate unanimously during this year’s legislative session.

Civil forfeiture is a practice that allows law enforcement to seize private property they allege has been involved in criminal activity and subsequently keep, sell or destroy it.

In Alabama, law enforcement needs only probable cause to seize property, leaving room for law enforcement agencies to abuse the practice. And according to a report by the Institute for Justice, they could — and can — get away with it. Alabama received a failing grade in all 6 different metrics for forfeiture transparency and accountability.

Police must report what they seize

The new law, SB191, requires law enforcement agencies to enter details of all seizures into a public database. Agencies must report the date, description, and location of the seizure, the agency involved, any arrests connected with the seizure, any claimants, and the disposition of property, as well as the proceeds agencies collected from the forfeiture property. Agencies’ seizure and forfeiture activity, along with the amount of proceeds received, will be aggregated into an annual report by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Commission and made available online. In addition, law enforcement’s civil forfeiture funds will be audited.

SB191 largely tracks what has been collected by the Alabama Forfeiture Accountability System, which is a voluntary reporting database that was announced earlier this year by the Alabama District Attorneys Association. However, both the Alabama Forfeiture Accountability System and the new system created by SB191 do not cover how law enforcement agencies spend their forfeiture money, which is “generated and spent outside the normal appropriations process and evades public scrutiny,” according to a release from the Institute for Justice.

“By itself, improved transparency cannot fix the fundamental problems with civil forfeiture—namely, the property rights abuses it permits and the temptation it creates to police for profit,” said Jennifer McDonald, an IJ research analyst who co-authored the transparency report. “Though limited, the Alabama Forfeiture Information Reporting Act is a welcome first step for keeping both the public and legislators well-informed about civil forfeiture in Alabama.”

This law comes at the heels of a new study from the Institute for Justice released earlier this month which indicates that civil forfeiture does not help police fight crime.

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Because agencies receive 100 percent of all proceeds from the forfeited property in Alabama, there is an incentive for law enforcement to seize. The study found that when local economies suffer, forfeiture activity increases, which suggests that forfeiture is used as a way for agencies to improve their bottom line.

“This study shows Alabama policymakers can undertake serious and much-needed forfeiture reforms without jeopardizing police effectiveness,” said Lee McGrath, IJ’s senior legislative counsel. “This study also confirms what experienced legislators in Alabama have long known: The state’s forfeiture laws encourage the pursuit of revenue over the pursuit of public safety and justice. In the next session, we urge the Alabama Legislature to end civil forfeiture and replace it with criminal forfeiture. The legislature should also end forfeiture’s perverse financial incentives and direct forfeiture proceeds to neutral accounts.”

Criminal forfeiture is a system that requires a conviction, typically of a felony, for property to become subject to forfeiture in most situations. Currently, 16 states have criminal forfeiture laws, and the Southern Poverty Law Center is pushing for Alabama to follow suit.

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Alabama is now the 23rd state to enact requirements to report and track seizures and forfeitures since 2014.

Supreme Court weighs in

The new law also comes shortly after a critical Supreme Court case regarding civil forfeiture, Timbs v. Indiana.

In the case, Tyson Timbs pleaded guilty to selling $225 of heroin to undercover police officers. In addition to being sentenced to house arrest, probation and to pay $1,200 in fees and fines, state officials seized Timbs’ Land Rover, worth $42,000. His car was purchased with money from his father’s insurance policy.

On Feb. 20, the Supreme Court, ruled unanimously 9-0 that the 8th Amendment limits states and localities’ ability to seize property. The state violated the Excessive Fines Clause of the 8th Amendment.

“Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed ‘in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence,’ for ‘fines are a source of revenue,’ while other forms of punishment ‘cost a state money.’ This concern is scarcely hypothetical,” Ginsburg wrote.

 

Evan Mealins is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter and student at Auburn University working toward a B.A. in media studies. You can follow him on Twitter @EvanMealins or email him at [email protected]

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Alabama Department of Corrections investigating inmate death

Robert Earl Adams, 40, died on Aug. 5 and although no foul play is suspected, a department spokeswoman in a message to APR said the exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating the death of an inmate at the Donaldson Correctional Facility.

Robert Earl Adams, 40, died on Aug. 5 and although no foul play is suspected, a department spokeswoman in a message to APR said the exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.

“While Adams’ exact cause of death is pending the results of a full autopsy, at the time of his passing inmate Adams was not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, was not under quarantine following direct exposure to an inmate or staff member who previously had tested positive, and was not in medical isolation as a result of a positive COVID-19 test,” said ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in the message.

Because Adams was not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, he had not been tested, Rose said.

An ADOC worker who contacted APR Friday morning about the death, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions from ADOC administrators, said it’s suspected that Adams may have overdosed after being given a cigarette laced with a drug.

Adams is at least the sixteenth state inmate to die this year from either homicide, suspected drug overdose or suicide. Additionally, fifteen inmates and two prison workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

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Alabama House speaker addresses arrest of Rep. Will Dismukes on theft charge

Eddie Burkhalter

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Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, turned himself in at the Montgomery County Detention Center Thursday.

Speaker of the Alabama House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, on Friday said a state representative arrested and charged with theft on Thursday is alleged to have committed the theft before he was elected and is due a presumption of innocence. 

Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, turned himself in at the Montgomery County Detention Center Thursday after a warrant for his arrest was issued for felony theft from a flooring business where he worked. The theft occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said Thursday.

“Like all Americans, Rep. Dismukes is due the presumption of innocence, and it is important to note that the crime of which he is accused was said to have occurred well before he announced his candidacy for the Alabama House,” McCutcheon said in a statement Friday. “As a former law enforcement officer, I have faith in the criminal justice process and trust that he will receive a full and fair hearing.” 

“Both Democrats and Republicans have been accused of similar crimes in the past, and we cannot tolerate such behavior whether the lawmaker involved has a D or an R beside their name,” McCutcheon continued. 

Dismukes in recent weeks has faced a torrent of calls for his resignation in recent weeks after posting to Facebook an image of himself attending a birthday celebration for the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Dismukes has said he has no plans to resign, but if convicted of felony theft, Dismukes would be removed from office.

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Arrest warrant issued for Rep. Will Dismukes for felony theft

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, has been accused of theft of property, a Class B felony. (WSFA)

An arrest warrant has been issued for Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, for felony theft from a business where he worked, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said Thursday.

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018, Bailey said during a press conference.

Bailey said the charge is a Class B felony and levied when a person steals in excess of $2,500 and that “I will tell you that the alleged amount is a lot more than that.” 

“The warrant has just been signed, his attorney has been notified and we are giving him until late this afternoon to turn himself in,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the employer contacted the district attorney’s office with a complaint about the theft on May 20, and after reviewing bank records and interviewing witnesses, the decision was made to charge Dismukes with the theft. 

WSFA reported Thursday that the theft occurred at Dismukes’ former employer, Weiss Commercial Flooring Inc. in East Montgomery. Bailey did not provide any more specifics on the charge but said the employer signed the arrest warrant after countless hours of investigation on the part of the DA’s office.

While the charge stems from a complaint filed months ago, Dismukes been in the headlines recently and faced a torrent of calls for his resignation in recent weeks after posting to Facebook an image of himself attending a birthday celebration for the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

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The event was hosted by an individual with close ties to the League of the South, a hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response, Dismukes stepped down from his post as a pastor at an Autauga County Baptist church but defiantly refused to step down from the Legislature.

If convicted of the felony, Dismukes would be immediately removed from his seat in the Alabama House, to which he was elected in 2018.

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In June, the Alabama Democratic Party called for his resignation over previous social media posts glorifying the Confederacy.

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Crime

Alabama Department of Corrections investigating death of 28-year-old inmate

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating the death of a 28-year-old inmate at the St. Clair Correctional Facility as a possible suicide. 

Charles Labarron Braggs was found unresponsive by prison officials in his cell on Monday, and life-saving attempts were unsuccessful, the department said in a message to APR on Thursday.

Braggs was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, and the department said in the statement that there’s “no evidence of a use-of-force incident” and that the investigation into his death is ongoing. 

“Use-of-force” refers to instances when correctional officers use physical force with an inmate. 

Braggs’ death is at least the sixth suspected suicide among those serving in Alabama prisons so far this year, according to the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice.

The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019, released a report detailing what federal investigators found were systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs, high levels of homicides and suicides and corruption in Alabama prisons.

ADOC continues to defend the department in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center over mental health care and treatment of inmates in state prisons, arguing in the complaint that the department was indifferent to the health of those inmates, who were dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers.

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The U.S. Department of Justice last week released a scathing report detailing systemic excessive use-of-force by Alabama correctional officers against inmates in the state’s prisons for men. The federal government believes the acts of violence against inmates violates the Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

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