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Opinion | Another Alabama cop is dead. Do we care enough to make the necessary changes?

Josh Moon

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There was a police officer shot and killed in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night. 

Tuesday morning, two girls woke up with a nice, happy family, a dad who took care of them and served his community. They went to bed heartbroken and forever changed. 

Dornell Cousette was just 40 years old. He was the fourth law enforcement officer shot dead in Alabama this year. 

Cousette chased 20-year-old Luther Bernard Watkins Jr., who had multiple felony warrants, into a home. Watkins allegedly opened fire, killing Cousette. 

Cousette’s death was not unlike those of the other three officers who have been murdered this year. All senseless. All tragic. All allegedly killed by relatively young men. 

We have a problem. 

A problem that is only going to get worse unless we take some serious steps to solve it. 

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Because we have created within this state a dangerous combination of angry and hopeless young people and a readily available supply of cheap, easy-to-get firearms. 

And we have to do something about those problems. 

Both of them. 

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The biggest problem we have in this state is our depressing public education system. It’s not good. We know it’s not good. 

But instead of addressing the very obvious reasons why it’s not good, we instead get sucked into idiotic conversations about school choice and giving (good) parents an option, because it’s apparently OK to punish children for life for being born to crappy parents. 

In reality, we know that the best way to ensure the future success of any child is to provide that child with a proper education and/or a serviceable skill. And we know that the best ways to do that is to provide quality instruction in a classroom with a low student-to-teacher ratio and proper educational tools and evaluations. 

For example, look at every single successful school system in this state. 

And whenever we speak of options and choice, we should know that we are leaving behind the kids who can’t make that choice. We are leaving behind thousands of innocent children who cannot decide to drive to the charter school every morning, who can’t choose to make more money to pay for the private school, who can’t choose to have parents who are involved, who can’t choose this better option. 

Those kids who are left behind — the ones who have always been left behind — they’re the ones with the guns, the ones shooting at everyone, the ones who are angry and mad at the world. 

And why wouldn’t they be? When they were just babies, the world stepped on their heads when they were drowning. 

Instead of making sure they were provided a quality education, we instead have made sure that they have access to semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines. 

Because when the Founding Fathers wrote the 2nd amendment, they had in mind a 19-year-old three-time felon who’s been on the street since he was 12, because the funds that would have paid for a public school counselor or after-school program to save him were instead spent on a new charter school choice for the kids with parents who weren’t hooked on painkillers. 

We all know that our gun laws are insane. Privately, even the biggest 2nd amendment people will admit this. Because every single one of them know that our lax gun laws have allowed some legitimate crazy people to purchase and carry firearms. 

But instead of admitting that our gun laws could use some tweaking, we get caught up in yet another idiotic conversation about “gun control.” 

Are you for gun control? Are you against gun control? Ohhh, Candidate Bill is for gun control. 

It’s such overly-simplistic BS designed to take our focus off of one very real fact: We all pretty much agree on this issue. 

The overwhelming majority of Americans want better background checks, universal checks — including at gun shows and in private sales — and they want assault weapons and high-capacity magazines banned. 

Those are reasonable things. 

And when you do those things, people are safer. People in states where such measures have been enacted are safer, statistics show, than those in gun-friendly states, where the guns are supposed to make us all safer. Cops in the more regulated states are 50 percent less likely to be shot. 

But maybe we don’t love police that much. Enough to change the gun laws. 

Maybe we don’t love anyone enough to make the necessary changes to stop this absolute madness.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Crime

Alabama inmate dies after inmate-on-inmate assault

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A Prattville man became at least the 19th Alabama inmate to have died this year in a state prison of circumstances that were avoidable. 

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Wells death makes at least the 19th inmate to have died from either suicide, drug overdoses or homicide, according to records kept by the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice. His death is at least the seventh suspected homicide in state prisons this year. 

ADOC doesn’t typically publish information on an inmate death unless a reporter discovers the death through other means and requests the information, with the expectation of deaths of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, which the department does regularly release. 

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against Wells by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” said ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a message to APR. “Wells’s exact cause of death is pending a full autopsy, and more information will be available upon the conclusion of the investigation into his death.”

A U.S. Department of Justice report in April 2019 found that Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons for men were likely in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment and its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and that ADOC regularly failed to protect inmates from sexual and physical violence perpetrated by other inmates.

An expected followup report by the Department of Justice in July detailed why the federal government believes systemic use of excessive force within Alabama’s prisons for men violates the Eighth Amendment. 

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As of Tuesday, at least 29 state inmates and two prison workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19. There have been 453 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 429 among prison staff as of Oct. 14, according to ADOC.

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Crime

28th Alabama inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, 441 Alabama inmates and 415 staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Johnny Dwight Terry on Oct. 8 became the 28th Alabama inmate to die after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Terry, 74, had multiple health conditions and was taken from Limestone Correctional Facility to a local hospital on Oct. 6 after exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus. He tested positive at the hospital where he remained until his death, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release on Friday. 

Two additional inmates and four workers at Limestone prison also tested positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC, bringing the total number of inmates who have tested positive at the prison to 23 and infected staff to 26. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 441 Alabama inmates and 415 staff have tested positive for coronavirus. Two prison workers at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman died after testing positive for the disease. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 2,834 had been tested for coronavirus as of Oct. 7, according to ADOC.

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Corruption

Attorney general opposes motion to reconsider Hubbard’s prison sentence

“Hubbard is not being punished for his reversed convictions. He is being punished for the crimes of which he remains convicted,” Marshall wrote to the court. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard reported for his prison sentence at the Lee County Detention Facility on Sept. 11.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a court filing Tuesday opposed a request by former House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s attorney for the court to reconsider his 4-year sentence on six felony ethics violations.

Marshall in the filing said that after four years of appeals, Hubbard remains convicted of those felonies.

“This Court’s carefully calibrated sentence of a four-year split, among other penalties, properly accounted for the severity of Hubbard’s crimes, the position of trust he abused, and the need for serious penalties to deter other wrongdoers,” Marshall wrote to the court. “In addition, Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency now that he is finally in jail.”

“In sum, nothing material has changed since Hubbard earned his four-year sentence four years ago. It’s simply time for him to serve it. Accordingly, his motion should be denied,’ Marshall continued.

Hubbard had originally been convicted by a Lee County jury on 12 ethics violations, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of those convictions, but the Alabama Supreme Court later reversed five of those convictions and upheld six.

He began serving his four-year sentence for the six convictions of using his office for personal gain on Sept. 11.

Hubbard’s attorney argued in a separate court filing that the court should reconsider his sentence because five of the 12 convictions were reversed, but Marshall told the court Tuesday that the sentence Hubbard received was just.

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“Hubbard is not being punished for his reversed convictions. He is being punished for the crimes of which he remains convicted,” Marshall wrote to the court.

Hubbard’s attorney in his request to reconsider sentencing also argued that Hubbard has already suffered from a “divestment of his business interests.”

Hubbard’s convictions related to consulting contracts that enriched him while he served as speaker.

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The state’s attorney general at the time of his conviction determined that Hubbard had bilked Alabama out of more than $2 million.

“Suffice it to say, it is a bad advocacy strategy for Hubbard to mourn his loss of an income stream worth millions, which he financed on the backs of hard-working Alabamians who expected an honest elected official. That Hubbard has lost some of these ill-gotten gains in no way suggests that Hubbard has paid back his debt to society,” Marshall wrote to the court.

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Crime

SPLC report: Despite COVID-19 deaths, Alabama isn’t releasing older, at-risk inmates

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center published Tuesday found that almost 200 older state inmates, at greater risk from COVID-19, were eligible for parole, but either had no hearing or were denied parole over the summer. 

Alabama’s three-member Board of Pardons and Paroles denied parole for 44 people who were 65 and older over the summer, SPLC’s report states, and a dozen of the more than 1,100 older inmates identified in a previous SPLC report have since died, either from COVID-19 or other illnesses. 

“Despite confirming the deaths, it remains unclear whether the cause could have been COVID-19 as ADOC would not provide information about those individuals in response to a public records request, citing ongoing internal investigations,” the report reads. 

The SPLC and several other criminal justice reform groups urged the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles to take steps to release at-risk inmates as the coronavirus pandemic began, through medical parole, medical furloughs and judicial sentence reviews, but to date, no such larger push to release inmates has taken place. 

According to ADOC, 22 inmates have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

SPLC’s report notes that many of the inmates who died had underlying health conditions, which were well known to prison officials. 

The Parole Board denied parole to more than three dozen inmates 65 or older since restarting parole hearings in May, according to the report. 

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“The BPP stopped paroles starting in March, against the demands of activists and legislators who pointed out that hearings could be done virtually. Hundreds of scheduled parole hearings were cancelled. After its hiatus, the BPP scheduled relatively few hearings throughout the summer compared to years past,” authors of the report wrote.

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