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Chip Brown to reintroduce bill allowing judges to hold those charged with violent crimes without bail

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, on Thursday announced plans to once again file a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to hold more people charged with violent crimes in jail without bail. 

Brown’s filed similar legislation last year, but after passing in the state House in a 92-3 vote it failed to clear the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Brown told APR on Thursday that last year they simply “ran out of time” during the legislative session, but that he feels confident he’ll get the measure on statewide ballots this year. 

“There’s been some high profile cases that this could have had a direct impact on, possibly, so I think the mood is there,” Brown said. 

Brown noted that Ibraheed Yazeed, charged with capital murder in connection with the death of 19-year-old college student Aniah Blanchard in November, was out on bond after being charged with violent crimes with Blanchard was killed. 

Yazeed had previously been charged with two counts of kidnapping, two counts of robbery and one count of attempted murder involving the robbery and beating of two men at a hotel in January, according to court records.  

Brown’s proposal would allow voters to decide whether to amend section 16 of the Alabama Constitution, which reads “all persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses, when the proof is evident or the presumption great; and that excessive bail shall not in any case be required.” 

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Brown proposes changing that section to read “If no conditions of release can reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm to the accused, the public, or both, ensure the presence of the accused at trial, or ensure the integrity of the judicial process, the accused may be detained without bail. Excessive bail shall not in any case be imposed or required.” 

Under the proposed changes prosecutors and judges would be able to keep a person charged with a Class A violent crime locked in jail without bond. 

“It’s very limited in scope,” Brown said, adding that the legislation is supported by both the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police and the Alabama Sheriff’s Association. 

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“The first issues we discussed was potential impacts on any jail overcrowding. Their opinion in my opinion is that it would have very minimal impact on the situation,” Brown said, adding that the change wouldn’t be mandatory. “It gives the judge the discretion, the opportunity to deny bond to someone who is potentially an imminent threat to the community, to themselves or who is a flight risk.” 

Bill Partridge, president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police and Oxford Police Chief, told APR in a message Thursday that the association supports Brown’s legislation and agrees that violent offenders who pose a threat to society should not be allowed to be free prior to a hearing by a competent court. 

If the legislation becomes law, district attorneys would have to request an evidentiary hearing, which the judge could approve or deny, and if a hearing is granted and the evidence discussed, the judge could still chose to grant a bond for the defendant, Brown said. 

APR’s attempts to reach the Alabama Sheriff’s Association for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. 

Brown said that during last year’s legislative session he hadn’t heard any pushback from groups concerned about his proposal.

Fox 10 reported in May that the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama opposed the legislation, arguing it could allow people charged with relatively minor crimes to be jailed without bail. Attempts to reach both groups for comment on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, told APR on Friday of concerns about how the legislation might impact county finances.

“The proposed legislation highlights a very serious problem in operating county jails in every corner of Alabama – a problem that has gone unnoticed and unaddressed for far too long,” Brasfield said in a message Friday morning. “Today, hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates sit in county jails awaiting trial.  The local taxpayers shoulder the total cost – except for $2.25 per day for the cost of meals.  Even though each of these inmates is charged with a state crime and, when convicted, will eventually make his or her way to the state system, it is the county governing body that must fund the operation of the jail to house these prisoners.”

Brasfield said that prison reforms in 2015 resulted in state inmates filling county jails but came with no state money to pay for their confinement or medical costs.

“The specific legislation being discussed seeks to address a very serious situation – and one that is of concern to counties. We certainly understand and respect the motivation behind this particular bill,’ Brasfield said. “But any change in our process for handling inmates will come with an enormous price tag. And we believe it is time the state begins to shoulder the costs that are stressing county jails to the breaking point.”

Brasfield said during the 2020 legislative session the association’s main focus will be to address the inmate crisis at the county level – “a crisis that is no less serious than the situation at the Alabama Department of Corrections that has dominated public attention over the last decade.”

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Crime

Alabama parole officers seize firearms, ammunition and drugs in Enterprise

The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Officers of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday seized two semiautomatic weapons, ammunition and drugs from a convicted armed robber in an operation in Enterprise. One of the seized weapons was stolen.

Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Charlie Graddick praised officers Jared McPhaul and Troy Staley for their work.

“The first job every day of our officers is to protect public safety,” Graddick said. “These officers stopped a parolee with a violent history from potentially using illegal weapons to harm someone. We are all grateful for their hard work and dedication.”

The officers arrested parolee Jay Gatewood on a parole violation. Gatewood is out on parole after serving prison time for first-degree robbery and child abuse. Evidence of a possible parole violation was found after a search of Gatewood’s car.

The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.

Parolees are required to report to parole officers periodically. Gatewood had failed to report for the month of October so McPhaul directed him to come to the Enterprise office to report. The officers had received a tip that Gatewood might be engaging in illegal activities.

When Gatewood arrived, the officers, acting on the tip, asked if there was anything improper in his vehicle. On questioning, Gatewood admitted to the officers that there was a gun in his car.

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McPhaul and Staley then searched the vehicle and found two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns. They also found three ammunition magazines, two of which were fully loaded, and a jar of marijuana with a digital scale.

The parole officers turned the evidence over to the Enterprise Police Department. McPhaul said that one of the guns had been reported stolen.

On March 17, 2008, Gatewood was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the armed robbery of a Dothan law office. He received three additional years for a child abuse conviction.

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After serving just eight years of his sentence with the Alabama Department of Corrections, Gatewood was paroled in 2016. This was before Graddick was appointed the director of Pardons and Paroles. Gatewood has been supervised by parole officers since his release from prison.

For a convicted criminal to be in possession of firearms is a federal offense. That as well as the possession of illegal drugs and stolen property are all parole violations.

Gatewood, who has been jailed for the alleged parole violations, could potentially have his parole revoked for any one or more of these offenses. That will be determined in a future hearing.

Gatewood could potentially face new charges in the federal system for the gun charge. The stolen property and the marijuana could also be prosecuted in the state court system.

The possession of the digital scale is an indication that the marijuana was for other than personal use.

Depending on the amount of marijuana in the jar and any other evidence presented to the grand jury, Gatewood could potentially face a felony drug charge.

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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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