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Court asked to intervene to address understaffing in Alabama prisons

Eddie Burkhalter



Attorneys for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections in a Wednesday court filing argued that the state is woefully behind on court-ordered hiring of correctional officers for the state’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons, and they asked for more court intervention. 

It has been more than two years since U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program filed the 2014 suit arguing the state was indifferent to the health of inmates dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers. 

“Since then, they have increased correctional staff by only 147 officers,” said attorneys for the plaintiffs in the court filing Wednesday. 

Thompson ordered ADOC to tell the court how the department planned to meet the hiring deadline, and in a response filed June 12, William Lunsford, the department’s attorney, told the court the department remains optimistic it can meet the hiring deadline, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the task more difficult. 

Lunsford told the court that since his order to hire more correctional officers, the state has made unprecedented recruitment efforts and the Alabama Legislature has increased ADOC’s budget to bolster correctional officers’ pay. He also argued that the subsequent closure of most of Holman Correctional Facility would likely result in the need for fewer correctional officers. 

ADOC’s staffing report from March 2018, the closest report to Thompson’s order to hire more officers, lists 371 supervisors and 1,096 correctional officers, totaling 1,476 correctional staff. 

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The state’s experts in the case told the court ADOC needed to employ 3,826 correctional staff, which would be an increase of 2,359 correctional officers, according to court records. 

ADOC’s staffing report from March 2020 shows the state employed 1,614 correctional officers, basic correctional officers (a newly-created position of correctional officer who have some limitations when working with inmates) and supervisors. 

“In anticipation of Defendants’ failure to make adequate progress in complying with the Understaffing Remedial Order, Plaintiffs originally requested that the Court ‘require the defendants to meet specific hiring benchmarks for correctional officers,’” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in Wednesday’s filing. 


Thompson declined to require the state meet hiring benchmarks at the time, the attorneys wrote. 

“Defendants’ correctional staffing data indicate that the time is ripe for the Court to make such an intervention,” the attorneys told the court Wednesday. 

The plaintiffs’ attorneys note that in Thompson’s previous opinion, he wrote prison understaffing “has been a persistent, systemic problem that leaves many ADOC facilities incredibly dangerous and out of control.” 

“Taken together, ADOC’s low correctional-staffing level, in the context of its severely overcrowded prisons, creates a substantial risk of serious harm to mentally ill prisoners, including continued pain and suffering, decompensation, self-injury, and suicide,” Thompson’s previous opinion continued. 

The attorneys told the court Wednesday that Thompson’s conclusion rings particularly true “in a moment when overcrowding will continue to worsen, correctional staffing remains at dangerously low rates, and the entire ADOC system is strained by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Jamal O’Neal Jackson, 29, became at least the fifth inmate in Alabama prisons who has died from a likely suicide this year. Jackson was found unresponsive in his cell at Holman Correctional Facility on May 15. 

During 2019, there were at least eight suspected suicides among inmates in state facilities.

There were at least 13 homicides among those serving in state prisons in 2019, and at least four suspected overdose deaths. So far this year, there have been at least five homicides of inmates in Alabama prisons and four possible overdose deaths.

The U.S. Department of Justice 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.

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



Supreme Court hands down two rulings expanding religious liberty

Brandon Moseley



The United States Supreme Court. (STOCK PHOTO)

The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday handed down two decisions strengthening religious liberty and expanding freedom of religion.

In the first case, the Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, saying that the Catholic nuns do not have to pay for medical procedures that they object to including abortion.

The decision was written by pro-life Justice Clarence Thomas. The 7 to 2 decision majority opinion is the biggest pro-life decision of the Trump presidency. This overturns a lower court ruling saying employees are entitled to abortion and birth control services.

The Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law praised the Supreme Court’s decision in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania. The Foundation had filed an amicus brief with the Court arguing in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s case.

This case arose from Obamacare’s contraception mandate. The Little Sisters objected to complying with the Obamacare mandate of contraception and abortion services based on their religious convictions. The Trump administration issued new rules that exempted employers with religious and moral objections to complying with the mandate. The States of Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against the Trump administration and the Little Sisters.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Third Circuit. The Court held that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 allowed the Trump administration to craft these regulations and that the Trump administration had complied with the Administrative Procedures Act in enacting the rules.

Consequently, it did not reach the religious freedom claim, but it held that it was proper for the Trump administration to consider the effect of federal religious freedom law when it passed the rules.

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“GREAT win at the Supreme Court today on the Obamacare abortion drug mandate,” said Republican Senate candidate Jeff Sessions. “For the first time in nearly a DECADE, the Little Sisters of the Poor & other religious groups can do their good work without fear of being forced to violate their beliefs.”

“As Attorney General, I reversed the Obama administration’s position in the Little Sisters of the Poor litigation, and said NO MORE to government persecution of religion,” Sessions said. “I have a lifelong record of fighting to protect religious freedom. This is one of many issues on which President Donald J. Trump and I worked on together to take a strong stand for religious liberty. I also started the Religious Liberty Task Force at the Department of Justice to protect religious freedom across the entire government.”

Sessions is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary on July 14. His opponent is former Auburn head football Coach Tommy Tuberville.


“Although the majority opinion focused more on administrative law than on religious liberty, the Court’s decision was a win for religious freedom because it upheld important rules that protect Americans with religious and moral objections to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate,” said Matt Clark, the attorney who wrote the Foundation’s amicus brief in this case.

“Justice Alito’s concurring opinion importantly emphasized that the courts must defer to a person’s interpretation of his religious obligations when he raises a religious objection,” Clark continued. “As James Madison wrote in 1785, ‘The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.’”

Kayla Moore is the President of the Foundation for Moral Law.

“The main opinion said that Congress considers religious liberty to be an ‘unalienable right,’” Moore said. “We commend Congress and the Court for recognizing it as such, and we hope that the Court will take that principle to its logical conclusion in every religious freedom case that it considers.”

Bible scholar and cultural commentator Dr. Michael Brown said, “This is a tremendous victory for freedom of religion and conscience in America. Under Obamacare, employers were forced to provide birth control coverage as part of their health plans, which for many Catholics in particular would be in violation of their faith. The court has overwhelmingly ruled for religious freedom, honoring moral objections of employers who now may opt out of providing abortion or birth control services.”

The Supreme Court also released a ruling Wednesday saying religious institutions have the right to pick their own employees and are exempt from secular anti-discrimination laws.

“Trump and moral conservatives won two big ones,” Brown said.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru the Court ruled that the First Amendment prevents courts from intervening in employment disputes between religious schools and the teachers at those schools who are entrusted with the responsibility of instructing their students in the faith.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission. Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

Brown is the author of the new book, “Evangelicals at the Crossroads: Will We Pass the Trump Test?” He has written 35 books and hosts a nationally syndicated daily talk radio show The Line of Fire, as well as the host of shows on GOD TV, NRBTV, and METV.

Barbara Ann Luttrell is the Vice President of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast.

Planned Parenthood SE was upset with both rulings.

“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld two Trump administration rules that allow employers and universities to push their religious or moral beliefs on employees and students by denying them access to insurance that covers birth control,” Luttrelll said in a statement. “Bosses and universities will be able to decide — based on their own objections — if their health insurance plans cover birth control.”

Staci Fox is the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.

“Today’s ruling deals yet another devastating blow to health care access in this country,” Fox said. “As is so often the case, it will hit people of color and low-income people hardest, and in the middle of a global pandemic that is already ravaging those communities. It is more proof that reproductive rights are under attack at all levels – not just abortion access.”

Both decisions were victories for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. The State of Alabama, under Marshall’s leadership, had previously joined multistate amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in both cases, supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor and Our Lady of Guadalupe School: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania; and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru.

“The First Amendment rightly recognizes that one of the unalienable rights all men and women possess is the right to exercise their faith,” Marshall wrote in a statement. “And today the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that fundamental truth in two important decisions. Thankfully, the Court recognized that the federal government need not force nuns to violate their sincerely held beliefs by providing contraceptive coverage to employees who help them care for the sick. And the Court likewise reaffirmed that the government has no authority to tell religious schools who they must hire or retain to teach their faith.”

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Judge refuses to dismiss Roy Moore lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen

A federal judge last week refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Showtime and CBS filed by former Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Brandon Moseley



Roy Moore, left, and Sacha Baron Cohen, right, on Cohen's now-canceled show "Who Is America?" (Showtime/YouTube)

Federal Judge Andrew Carter last week refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Showtime and CBS. The lawsuit was filed by former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and his wife Kayla Moore, who claim that Cohen slandered Moore as a pedophile on his now-canceled show “Who is America?”

After the judge denied Cohen’s request to dismiss the $95 million lawsuit, the case will now proceed to discovery, where the Moores announced that they intend to take the depositions of and obtain evidence from Cohen and other relevant individuals at Showtime, CBS and their related entities.

The Moores had put the defendants on notice that if they aired the offensive and defamatory interview by Cohen, who posed in disguise as an Israeli Mossad agent, that they would be sued for large damages. When the defendants did not heed the warning and aired the interview anyway, the Moores brought their lawsuit.

The case is being litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after it was transferred over a year ago from a federal court in Washington D.C.

“We are gratified that the Court is allowing the Moores’ case to go forward and we look forward to putting Cohen and the other defendants under oath,” said Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, and a former federal prosecutor. “The alleged defamation of Chief Justice Moore was malicious and despicable and it is time that a jury of the parties’ peers allow justice to be done. Great harm has been caused to my clients, which must be addressed and remedied.”

In 2017, Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme court, was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. The Washington Post released an investigation that alleged Moore sexually abused young women in the 1970s. Moore denied the accusations.


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Dale County man indicted on 60 counts of child sex crimes

Brandon Moseley



Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced the indictment of a Dale County man for 60 counts of child sex crimes.

Jason Park, age 40, of Newton, was served notice of the indictments on June 26 at the Dale County Jail, where he was already incarcerated after being arrested previously on many of the same charges.

Marshall’s office presented evidence to a Dale County grand jury on June 17, resulting in Park’s indictment.

The state charged Park with 43 counts of possession of child pornography, 13 counts of production of child pornography and four counts of sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old.

Since last November, Park has been arrested five times on a total of 40 charges. His bond was revoked Feb. 28, and he has been held in the Dale County Jail since that date. The indictment announced Monday includes both the 40 charges for which he was previously arrested and 20 additional charges.

If convicted, Parks could potentially face life in prison.

Possession of child pornography is a class C felony in Alabama, punishable by between one year and one day to 10 years imprisonment; however Park has 43 of these counts, so he could face that times 43.

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Production of child pornography is a class A felony under state law, and, because the three victims were all younger than 12 years old, it is punishable by 20 to 99 years or life imprisonment. There are 13 counts so his sentence there could be multiplied by a factor of 13.

Sexual abuse of a child is a class B felony under Alabama law. Because the two victims were both less than 12 years old, it is punishable by 10 to 20 years for each of the four counts.

An indictment is merely an accusation. Park will get a chance to present his defense when the case comes to trial. Everyone, even Park, is presumed innocent until found guilty by a jury of his or her peers.


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Birmingham man sentenced for carjacking and firearm charges

Brandon Moseley



A federal judge sentenced Darise Cortez Austin, age 29, on Friday for carjacking and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence that occurred in Birmingham.

The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Acting Special Agent in Charge Frank Haera.

U.S. District Judge Corey Maze sentenced Austin to 144 months in prison for carjacking and possession of a firearm during of a crime of violence. Austin pleaded guilty in February.

“This sentence is another great example of our office and law enforcement partners working together to remove another violent criminal from our communities,” Town said. “Violent criminals who plague our streets will continue to be targets for federal prosecution where the debt to society is full price. No discounts. No parole.”

ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge, Frank Haera stated, “Removing the criminal element that uses a firearm to facilitate violent crimes such as carjacking is a priority of ATF. This joint collaboration of our local, state and federal partners as part of DOJ’s national strategy “Project Guardian” aided in one less gun on the streets. This focused investigation will have a lasting impact within this community.”

Austin lives in the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham. Ensley was incorporated in 1899 and was once a thriving industrial community with its own downtown; but since being incorporated into Birmingham by the state legislature in 1910 many of the steel mils and foundries there have closed down, the city’s commercial center has fallen into decay, and the city/neighborhood has experienced a severe decline and rising poverty.

According to the plea agreement, Austin, while armed with a firearm, approached a Birmingham victim outside of the victim’s apartment. While pointing the firearm at the victim, Austin took the victim’s keys, wallet, and a Taurus .357 caliber pistol. Austin then stole the victim’s 2007 Nissan Altima and left the residence. Austin used the victim’s debit card at several different places. Fortunately, Austin’s crime spree was ended when an Alabama State Troopers found Austin in Lawrence County. Austin attempted to elude the State Trooper. During the motor vehicle pursuit that reached speeds of 102 miles per hour, Austin crashed the stolen Nissan. Law enforcement then detained and arrested him.

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This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019. According to the DOJ, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.

The ATF investigated the case along with the Birmingham Police Department, and ALEA. Assistant U.S Attorney Kristy Peoples prosecuted the case.

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