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SPLC joins ACLU of Alabama in request for plans to protect jails, prisons from COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Civil rights groups are demanding that action is taken to protect people in jails and prisons, who are vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Tuesday called for the federal government and officials in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida to protect those facilities through evidence-based protocols and to “release those people most at risk of suffering serious complications or death.” 

In letters signed by a dozen civil rights groups to the three states those groups call for immediate action to save the lives of those serving in the facilities as well as workers inside. 

 “Imprisoned and detained people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19,” reads the letter. “They are housed in close quarters and are often in poor health. Without the active engagement of those who administer the facility, they have little ability to learn about ongoing public health crises or to take necessary preventative measures if they do manage to learn of them.”

The letter also asks state and federal officials to release elderly people and others “who are at a high risk of dying before they contract the disease.” 

The SPLC’s call to action joins that of a request Monday by the ACLU of Alabama which asked Alabama officials to release a plan for the state’s prisons. 

“Incarcerated people cannot follow the CDC recommendation of social distancing, and because Alabama prisons are already operating at 170 percent of their designed capacity, these men and women are at an increased risk of exposure and contamination in the prison population,” said Randall Marshall, executive director at ACLU of Alabama, in a statement Monday. 

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Marshall noted that more than 20 percent of the people in custody in state facilities are over the age of 50, putting them at higher risk of serious health complications or death if infected. 

“It is imperative that the Governor and ADOC release their plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside the prisons, to quarantine and care for any prisoner who shows symptoms, and to ensure all supplies and food remain stocked during this crisis,” Marshall said. “They must also address how they plan to provide continued staffing in the event of staff shortages due to illness or caring for an ill family member. ADOC staffing is currently at 40 percent.”

An ADOC spokeswoman on March 9 told APR that the department hadn’t yet updated its existing influenza plan to prepare for COVID-19, but that the work was underway. 

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“The ADOC will work with the ADPH and other state agencies to develop our Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), as the Department has in previous years in formulating our pandemic response,” ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose said in a statement. 

It was unclear Monday if ADOC has updated that plan. A spokeswoman for the department hadn’t returned a response to APR’s question on the matter as of Tuesday morning.  

ADOC on March 13 suspended visitation and disallowed volunteers to enter into the state’s prisons for 30 days in response to the novel coronavirus.

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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