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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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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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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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