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Alabama lawmakers file bill to stiffen consequences for false reporting

The bill would make faking an abduction a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Carlee Russell Hoover Police Department

Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, and Rep. Mike Shaw, R-Hoover, have announced legislation that will create stiffer consequences for abduction hoaxes in the wake of the incident involving Carlee Russell.

Weaver and Shaw announced Thursday a bill that would make faking an abduction a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Russell drew national attention after calling into police in July last year to report a toddler along I-459 last year, only to vanish without a trace. When Russell reappeared two days later, it soon became apparent there never was a toddler, but instead had created the illusion that she has been abducted.

“Like so many others around Alabama and the rest of the nation, I paused when news of the abduction and disappearance of Carlethia Russell was reported and I said a prayer for her safe return,’’ Weaver said. “The fact that such an incident could occur so close to home made it very disturbing and made an already disturbing event even more alarming.

“Like many others, I was outraged when I discovered the entire incident was an elaborately staged hoax,’’ she said. “It wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of human resource hours.”

Russell has already been found guilty of two misdemeanors related to the incident, but no law currently exists specifically for faking an abduction.

The bill would mandate that any prison sentence given must be served day for day by the person convicted, and that full restitution must be paid to cover expenses by law enforcement and assisting organizations investigating the false report.

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Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said Hoover officers worked more than 424 hours of overtime and the department spent over $50,000 in the two days spent looking for Russell.

The bill creates the new felony charge for situations in which the false report alleges imminent danger to a person or the public. It’s unclear whether such a law would have applied to Russell—prosecutors would have to argue that Russell’s false report of the roadside toddler communicated imminent danger to the toddler. While the law most likely would apply in that case, it wouldn’t have to do with the abduction hoax itself; Russell never falsely reported an abduction—the abduction was assumed when police responded and found Russell’s vehicle abandoned.

The 2024 Legislative Session begins Tuesday, Feb.6.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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