The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed a bill to give judges more discretion in denying bail to people accused of committing violent crimes.
The bill is named for Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old Alabama college student who was kidnapped and murdered last year. The man charged with her murder, Ibraheed Yazeed, was out on bond for charges including kidnapping and attempted murder at the time he was arrested in connection with Blanchard’s case.
Currently, judges can only deny bond in capital murder cases. The bill would allow judges to deny bail in cases involving certain violent offenses.
Blanchard’s father, Elijah Blanchard, stepmother, Yashiba Blanchard, and mother, Angela Harris, spoke to the House Judiciary Committee today in support of the law.
“This would not have happened to our child if this bill would have been in place,” Harris said. “We can save a lot of lives by doing this because, because with repeat violent offenders, they are going to repeat.”
If the bill passes the full House and Senate, it will appear on the ballot in November.
Police may serve search warrants out of their jurisdiction, Alabama AG says
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Tuesday that recent actions by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court have clarified that Alabama law allows law enforcement officers in the state to serve search warrants outside their territorial jurisdiction as long as a judge within the jurisdiction of service approves the warrant.
“The influence of the internet in the spread of criminal activity across jurisdictions has highlighted the need for timely collection of evidence critical to stopping crimes and securing convictions,” Marshall said. “These court actions remove any doubt that law enforcement has the authority to gather vital evidence across jurisdictions. I’m pleased the Attorney General’s Office played a role in this effort.”
In May 2018, Jeffrey Dale Hunt was indicted for over 6,500 counts for possession and production of child pornography. In that case, law enforcement officers in Lauderdale County seized evidence in nearby Colbert County. Hunt’s legal defense sought to suppress the evidence gathered by a Florence police detective at Hunt’s workplace in Colbert County. The Florence police detective had secured the warrant from a Colbert County judge prior to serving it.
In June 2019, a Lauderdale County circuit court judge granted Hunt’s motion to suppress the evidence. Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly appealed that decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Marshall supported Connolly’s appeal.
In handling the appeal, the attorney general argued that the circuit court had erred in granting the motion to suppress evidence collected from Hunt’s electronic devices at his workplace. The AG’s office argued that the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure allow Alabama law enforcement officers to serve locally-approved warrants outside their territorial jurisdictions.
In its March 13, 2020, opinion, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed. Hunt then appealed the court’s ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court. On July 10, 2020, the court denied Hunt’s petition for certiorari review.
Marshall wrote that the combined court actions not only allow the suppressed evidence in Hunt’s case to be readmitted, but they also serve to clarify for the first time in Alabama criminal case law that search warrants can be served by law enforcement officers outside their territorial jurisdictions provided a local judge within the jurisdiction of service approves the warrant.
The victory before the Supreme Court will allow the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s prosecution of the Hunt case now to proceed.
Marshall thanked Assistant Attorney General Kristi Wilkerson, Solicitor General Edmund LaCour and Deputy Solicitor General Barrett Bowdre for their efforts in working this important pre-trial appeal case. The attorney general also expressed appreciation to the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s Office for its close cooperation in the successful appeal.
Two more Alabama inmates die after testing positive for COVID-19
The two additional deaths bring the total number of inmate deaths after positive test results to 12.
Two more inmates in Alabama prisons have died after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections, bringing the total number of inmate deaths after positive test results to 12.
ADOC also announced Monday that 32 more inmates and eight prison workers have tested positive for coronavirus, making Monday’s update the largest single-day tally of new cases and deaths.
Lavaris Evans, 31, of Birmingham who was serving at Easterling Correctional Facility died Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC. He had no other underlying medical conditions, according to the department.
Barry Stewart Foy, 57, who was serving at Staton Correctional Facility, where he was housed in the infirmary because of multiple health problems, also died after testing positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC.
Foy was tested for coronavirus on June 11 after being exposed to another inmate in the infirmary who tested positive. He was taken to a local hospital on June 20, where he later died.
Sharon Evans, Lavaris Evans’s wife, speaking to APR by phone on June 26, which was 16 days before his death, described what she was able to learn about her husband’s condition and of the last time she spoke to him.
“One of his friends, another inmate, said that he was so unresponsive he couldn’t even walk. He fell out. They allowed him to just lay in bed for four or five days, and no aid rendered,” Evans said.
Correctional officers placed her husband in a single cell, Evans said, a practice the department has used in the past to isolate a person who is suspected of having coronavirus to quarantine them away from others.
When his friend went to check on him in that single cell, her husband was unable to stand and walk to get his food, Evans said the inmate told her. It was that other inmate that informed Evans of her husband’s conditions after days of her trying unsuccessfully to get some word from prison administrators, she said.
APR’s attempts to contact the inmate who knew Lavaris were unsuccessful.
“They gave me the runaround. They hung up on me. They left me on hold for long periods of time. They gave me a name of a person to contact within the facility, and I found out later that person no longer works there,” Evans said.
Evans said the last time she spoke to her husband was on June 16, and it was clear something was wrong.
“He said that he woke up in a sweat. He was very weak, like his body was so heavy, and he was short of breath. He couldn’t even make a complete sentence,” Evans said. “He kept trying to say ‘I love you. Just know that I love you.’ And I’m like, ‘No. Stop saying that,’ as if it was going to be his last time speaking with me.”
Evans said he started coughing and sounded as if he was throwing up “and then he dropped the phone and that was the last I heard from him. I’m nervous now because I don’t know anything,” Evans told a reporter more than two weeks before his death.
An APR reporter reached out to an ADOC spokeswoman on June 26 and asked that a prison administrator call Evans to update her on her husband’s whereabouts and condition, and the spokeswoman said that she would make that effort.
Evans said that she never heard from anyone at ADOC, but that another family member of her husband was able to learn from prison staff that he was taken to a local hospital some time after she spoke to him on June 16, but the family member got no other information on his condition.
Evans told APR in a message July 9 that an inmate told her that her husband’s condition was worsening, that he had tested positive for COVID-19, was having heart problems and had pneumonia.
Lavaris Evans was tested for COVID-19 at Easterling prison on June 23, according to ADOC’S press release Monday. That would have been seven days after his last conversation with his wife. The department said he was tested after he began exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus.
“Evans did not suffer from any known preexisting health conditions. He was transferred to a local hospital for additional care on June 25 after his condition began to decline and returned a second positive test result for COVID-19 while at the hospital. Evans remained under the care of the hospital until his passing,” ADOC said in the release.
Twenty-six of the 34 new confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates Monday are at St. Clair Correctional Facility, where on Monday a total of 29 inmates and 10 workers had tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
Four more inmates at Easterling prison and four at Bullock Correctional Facility have also tested positive for COVID-19.
Five more workers at Kilby Correctional Facility have confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total among staff there to 25. Two workers at Easterling prison also self-reported positive test results, as did a worker at Bibb Correctional Facility.
Two workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman previously died after testing positive for COVID-19. As of Monday, there have been 100 confirmed COVID-29 cases among inmates in Alabama, and 203 prison workers self-reported positive test results.
As the death toll and surging COVID-19 cases among inmates and staff continue, the department recently announced plans to ramp up testing, but for early proponents of expanded testing in state prisons, the move comes too late, and a lack of a detailed plan is troubling, they say.
ADOC on July 9 announced plans to start more broadly testing inmates and staff.
“The ADOC’s ultimate goal is to, over time, test every inmate across the correctional system for COVID-19,” according to a department press release.
Inmates are currently tested for coronavirus upon intake, when exhibiting symptoms of the virus and before medical appointments and procedures at local hospitals. Prison workers are asked to self-report positive COVID-19 test results.
ADOC said in the release last week that the next phase of expanded COVID-19 testing, “which will begin in the near future,” includes testing those inmates who are “most medically vulnerable,” and the department plans to test all inmates prior to release.
The department is also “working to develop a comprehensive plan and timeline” to provide staff with free testing “on a yet-to-be determined schedule.”
“The ADOC’s Office of Health Services (OHS) is working with community partners to develop both fixed and mobile testing sites and provide necessary logistical support,” the department’s press release states.
Asked Friday why plans for expanded testing of inmates and staff aren’t already finalized and ready to implement, ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a message said that the department’s Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan is a “living” plan and is “regularly updated with new protocols, learnings, and actionable information based on the latest available data.”
Rose also said that COVID-19 testing capabilities “were extremely limited from March – May. This issue was not specific to Alabama, nor specific to correctional systems.”
Testing resources have expanded since the start of the pandemic, and so to have ADOC’s testing capabilities, Rose said.
“Given the fluid nature of COVID-19 and the now greater availability of testing resources, the expansion of our testing protocols — as indicated in our release — requires strategic implementation in order to achieve success as it relates to further containing the spread of the disease, which is the primary purpose. We fully intend to steward the taxpayer dollars funding this initiative thoughtfully to ensure we deliver appropriate available medical resources to our inmates and staff members,” Rose continued.
APR asked how long it might take for ADOC to begin the next phase of expanded testing, and Rose responded that the department will provide more information on the expanded testing strategy “and associated timelines related to its incremental implementation, in the near future.”
As of Monday, 535 of the state’s approximately 21,000 inmates had been tested for COVID-19, according to ADOC.
Dillon Nettles, a policy analyst at ACLU of Alabama, said in a message to APR on Monday that ADOC’s announcement of expanded testing is only as good as the plan and protocols in place to implement it.
“None have been disclosed or provided in detail. While several other states have forged ahead with mass testing of people in custody and staffers, ADOC seemingly has no plan for how they will execute testing at scale and adequately distance individuals who have been tested from those who have not,” Nettles said.
“The first COVID-19 patient in ADOC custody passed away nearly three months ago and in recent weeks two prison staffers have also died,” Nettles continued. “Mitigating this crisis as it has spread to our prisons is a responsibility that falls squarely upon Commissioner Dunn and ADOC leadership. They have yet to address it with the urgent and life-preserving response it demands.”
Alabama Department of Corrections investigating inmate death
His exact cause of death is pending an autopsy, but the department said prior to his death he was not showing symptoms of COVID-19.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating the death of a 44-year-old man who was serving at Limestone Correctional Facility.
Joseph Lee Cox died at a local hospital on July 11, the department confirmed for APR on Monday. No foul play is suspected.
His exact cause of death is pending an autopsy, but the department said prior to his death he was not showing symptoms of COVID-19, was not under quarantine after being exposed to an infected inmate or worker and hadn’t tested positive for the virus himself.
ADOC said more information on his death would be released after the investigation is complete.
At least 15 state inmates have died so far this year from either homicide, suicide or drug overdoses. That’s more than had died by the same time last year, when there were at least 28 such deaths in state prisons throughout 2019.
The U.S. Justice Department in an April 2019 report found the state’s prisons for men were understaffed, overpopulated and has systemic problems with violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption.
Tenth state inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19
As of Tuesday, 97 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19.
A tenth Alabama inmate has died after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the state.
Raymond Earl Allen, 59, who was serving at the St. Clair Correctional Facility died Monday at a local hospital, where he had been taken after exhibiting symptoms for coronavirus, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Tuesday.
Allen was considered high-risk because he had end-stage renal disease, according to ADOC.
ADOC also said another inmate at St. Clair has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases among inmates at the prison to 28. Six workers at the prison have also tested positive for the virus.
The department also announced that four workers at the Kilby Correctional Facility, two at the Fountain Correctional Facility and one at the Alex City Community Based Facility and Community Work Center also tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, 97 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, while 28 have since recovered. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 490 have been tested. Of the 184 confirmed cases among prison staff, 100 have recovered.
Two prison workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman have died after testing positive for coronavirus. There have been confirmed cases of the virus in 27 of the state’s 32 facilities.