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Former Montgomery PD chief files federal lawsuit against city, Mayor Reed

Chief Ernest Finley claims he was forced to resign as the result of a conspiracy that included phony ethics charges.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed prepares to speak at a press conference regarding leaked audio of him that he says is part of an extortion attempt. (Jacob Holmes/APR)
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Former Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Mayor Steven Reed, claiming that Reed and others took part in an orchestrated plot to generate phony complaints and file false ethics violations about Finley in an effort to force his resignation. 

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, claims that Finley was targeted by Reed because Finley “enforced Civil Rights laws of the United States and hired, promoted and disciplined employees equitably, regardless of race or gender.” It also claims that Reed wanted Black officers promoted and provided better terms and conditions because of their race. 

Asked about the lawsuit, Reed’s office provided a brief statement: “Chief Finley was an appointee of Mayor Reed. He served at the pleasure of the Mayor. The Mayor can change police chiefs at any time without any need for approvals, and anything beyond that is moot.”

Finley’s lawsuit, however, alleges a conspiracy and draws in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, which appears to be siding with the former police chief.    

Finley’s ethics case is at the center of a dispute between the AG’s Office and the Alabama Ethics Commission over the Commission’s responsibility to turn over exculpatory evidence to those accused of ethics violations. AG Steve Marshall has stated publicly that a review of the allegations against Finley found no wrongdoing, and Marshall subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Ethics Commission over the ordeal, claiming that the Commission has a duty to provide exculpatory evidence. 

In his federal lawsuit, Finley claims that the AG’s Office’s investigation “confirms” a conspiracy between the Ethics Commission and Montgomery officials to bring damaging ethics charges against Finley. 

“The Attorney General’s separate investigation … concluded that the Ethics Commission conspired with the City and its agents in unethical and illegal acts to present false evidence to the Ethics Commission regarding Finley and Reaves,” the lawsuit reads. “Further investigation revealed exculpatory evidence was withheld in violation of the law, and other evidence was continued and incorrectly reported to the Commission in order … to secure votes of the Commission to convict Finley … of ethical violations.”

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Finley claims in the lawsuit that the ordeal began in 2020 when he, along with his Deputy Chief of Operations Jennifer Reaves, conducted an investigation into 12 officers who were accused of ethics violations and other issues. That investigation ultimately found the 12 officers guilty to a varying degree of offenses. Finley recommended the termination of five officers. 

Finley claims that Reed then instructed the officers to file complaints about Finley to the City Council and orchestrated a plan to ultimately have Finley removed as chief. Part of that plan, Finley claims, was an investigation into Finley’s promotion of Reaves to Deputy Chief. 

As part of that investigation, Finley says, officers were allowed to submit anonymous complaints to Ethics investigator Byron Butler, who previously worked under Reaves. The lawsuit claims one officer reported that she was “recruited” to submit complaints about Finley. 

Ultimately, Finley said he was pressured by Butler and Ethics Commission General Counsel Cynthia Raulston to accept an administrative resolution – essentially a guilty plea to a minor ethics violation – instead of being charged with a felony ethics violation. The administrative resolution was then used, Finley claims, to force him out as police chief. 

Attorneys for the City of Montgomery have not yet responded to Finley’s claims.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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