The Wire

  • Bill passes House to allow terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs — Mo Brooks

    Excerpt from a news release issued by U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks:

    “I’m proud the House passed Right to Try, and I was honored to co-sponsor of the Right to Try Act in the memory of Steve Mayfield, who died from ALS after being denied experimental treatments that could have prolonged his life and alleviated his pain. No American should have to suffer when their government holds the keys to lifesaving drugs. These terminally ill patients are already in the fight of their lives—they don’t need to fight their government, as well.

    Congressman Brooks was inspired to co-sponsor the Right to Try Act by the story of Steve Mayfield, a respected high school football coach at Central High School in Lauderdale County, Alabama, who in March 2017, died after a lengthy fight with both Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and a federal bureaucracy that denied him the right to try potentially life-saving experimental treatments.

  • Mayor Battle asks Gov. Ivey to appear with him at Huntsville and Birmingham area debates

    Excerpt from Battle for Governor advisory:

    Top Republican gubernatorial challenger Tommy Battle, emailed a letter addressed to Governor Ivey on Tuesday. The letter invited Ivey to appear with Battle at events throughout Alabama to discuss the qualifications of each candidate.

    Tommy Battle has committed to attend all of the following:
    — April 12 – 7 a.m. – A debate hosted by the Birmingham Business Journal
    — April 12 – 7 p.m. – A debate hosted by NBC 13 in Birmingham
    — April 14 – 8 a.m. – A candidate forum hosted by the Mid Alabama Republican Club in Birmingham
    — May 9 – 2 p.m. – A candidate forum hosted by the Association of Builders and Contractors in Huntsville
    — May 10 – 11:30 a.m. – A candidate forum hosted by the Moody Area Chamber of Commerce

  • Bill is a ‘bold statement’ that Birmingham will compete for tourism dollars — Sen. Jabo Waggoner

    Excerpt from an Alabama Senate news release:

    “Tourism is an important economic engine to our state and particularly to Birmingham. By final passage of Senate Bill 311, we are making a bold statement that we can and will be competitive again for tourism and convention business,” Waggoner said.

    Waggoner pointed out that just in the short-term, the expansion and modernization of the BJCC (Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center) during construction is projected to generate over $325 million in economic impact, over $130 million in wages, and employ over 3,700 people.

35 mins ago

Alabama Committee approves ethics exemption for economic developers

(Made in Alabama)

An Alabama Senate committee has approved legislation, pushed by the state’s top industry recruiter, to exempt professional economic developers from the state ethics law.

The Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved the House-passed bill Wednesday on a 10-2 vote. It now moves to the Senate floor.


The proposal would exempt professional economic developers from the rules that govern lobbyists. The rules include registering with the state, undergoing yearly training and reporting activity.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield has said professional site developers, who help businesses decide where to locate, will not work in Alabama if they must register as lobbyists.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has expressed concern about exempting a group of people, whose primary job involves interacting with government officials, from the state ethics law.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 hours ago

Ex-Tuskegee football coach accused of selling cocaine, pot

(Tuskegee Athletics)

A former assistant football coach at Tuskegee University is accused of selling cocaine and marijuana in Alabama.

U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin Sr. says in a statement that 33-year-old Ramone Jardon Nickerson was arrested Wednesday. Prosecutors say the Phenix City man was indicted by a grand jury after being found with roughly 3 ounces of cocaine, a pound of marijuana and a .40-caliber handgun March 13 in Russell County.


Tuskegee’s website says the alumnus coached cornerbacks and was a four-year starter before joining the coaching staff in 2006.

If convicted, Nickerson could be sentenced to a maximum 20 years in prison for drug trafficking charges and at least 5 years for a related gun charge. There’s no parole in the federal system.

It is unclear if Nickerson has a lawyer.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

3 hours ago

Alabama House approves school security money


Schools could soon be able to tap a state technology fund for security measures such as paying for school resource officers or surveillance cameras.

The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday voted 96-4 for the bill. The Alabama Senate will now consider whether to go along with House changes to the proposal.


The legislation by Republican Sen. Trip Pittman of Montrose is one of the few school security proposals nearing final passage in the Alabama Legislature.

According the Legislative Services Agency, schools received a total of $21.4 million from the fund in 2016, but no money in 2017. A separate bill would steer an additional $58.8 million to the fund.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has announced support for the legislation.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 hours ago

Alabama man pleads guilty to wife’s 2014 disappearance, slaying

(Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office)

An Alabama man who led police to his wife’s remains two years after she went missing has pleaded guilty in her shooting death.

Jefferson County Deputy District Attorney Shawn Allen said Wednesday that 45-year-old Joseph Sylvester Poe III was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on an intentional murder charge in the death of Paula Anne Worcester.

73 reports that Worcester’s sister reported her missing in July 2014, and she wasn’t located until Poe was arrested on unrelated charges in July 2016. He told Tarrant police he needed to talk to a detective about her disappearance, and then admitted to shooting her and leaving her body in a wooded area.

Police found skeletal remains in that location.

Poe had originally been charged with capital murder.

(Image: Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

5 hours ago

Tornado damage closes Alabama university until early April

(Jacksonville State University/Facebook)

The Jacksonville State University president says the school will be closed until April 2 as officials assess the damage of Monday’s tornado.

Standing in front of a roofless freshman dorm at a Wednesday news conference and surrounded by downed trees and power lines, university president John Beehler said the school will come back “stronger than we were before, more beautiful than we were before.”

55 quotes him as saying it will take at least a week to remove the debris and finish assessing the campus and its 70 buildings.

He says the school will finish out the semester and plans for temporary classrooms and lodging will be crafted when the damage assessment is complete.

(Image:Jacksonville State University/Facebook)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

6 hours ago

Bidding up slightly in US offshore oil lease sale


Oil and gas companies bid on about 1 percent of the Gulf of Mexico waterbottom offered in what the Trump administration has been calling the biggest offshore lease sale in U.S. history.

The government says 33 companies made $124.8 million in high bids Wednesday on 148 offshore tracts.

That’s up slightly from August, when 27 companies submitted $121.1 million in high bids on 90 tracts. That sale was the first since 1983 to offer all available Gulf acreage.


It offered 73 million acres (29 million hectares) compared to Wednesday’s 77 million acres (31 million hectares).

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says 43 bids Wednesday were for tracts in shallow water less than 200 meters (218 yards) deep, up from about 10 in August. Regional director Michael Celata (suh-LAH-tuh) says royalty rates for such tracts were reduced very close to the August bidding deadline.

(Image: Pixabay)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

7 hours ago

Alabama eyes potential economic impact of fatal deer disease

(David Rainer)

A fatal deer disease is inching closer to Alabama, where whitetail deer are the most popular game animal and hunting generates a $1.8 billion yearly economic impact.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that a dead buck tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Mississippi’s Issaquena County last month; until then, the closest state to Alabama with the neurological disease was Arkansas.


Chuck Sykes with the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division says it’s unlikely a diseased deer would wander “over an imaginary line on a map,” but that infected meat or animals could be brought in knowingly or unknowingly. Alabama has banned the import of carcasses from states where CWD has been confirmed.

The department says states with CWD have seen an up to 40 percent decrease in hunting license sales.

(Image: Davide Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

8 hours ago

Alabama to execute convicted bomber nearly 30 years later

(Alabama Department of Corrections)

Judge Robert S. Vance was at his kitchen table on Dec. 16, 1989, when he opened a package that had been mailed to his home. The bomb hidden inside exploded with brutal force, killing Vance instantly and severely injuring his wife.

Two days later, a similar device killed an attorney in Georgia. Two other mail bombs were later intercepted and defused, one at a federal courthouse in Atlanta and the other at an NAACP office in Jacksonville, Florida.


The bombings created a wave of terror across the South. Now, nearly 30 years later, Alabama is preparing to execute the man convicted in Vance’s killing, Walter Leroy Moody Jr. of Rex, Georgia. Moody is set for lethal injection next month.

The long-delayed resolution to the old crime comes as Texas officials grapple with a deadly spate of bombings over three weeks that ended Wednesday when the suspect blew himself up.

The complex investigation that led to Moody’s prosecution is a reflection of how difficult it can be to get to the bottom of sporadic bombings like the ones in Texas. And it is also a testament to the lingering effects that such a crime can have.

Tom Thurman, who retired from the FBI’s crime laboratory after handling cases including the Vance assassination, said bombings are “more complicated in many aspects” than other crimes.

“On the investigative side it’s so different from other crimes that involve personal contact,” he said. “An individual is there to stab, hit or shoot somebody … and a lot of times law enforcement is fortune to have someone who was there. In most bombing cases, the person who sets the device or sends it is not there. They’ve got some anonymity.”

Vance’s son, Robert Vance Jr., said he is thankful Moody is in prison, and he feels for the victims in Texas, where two people were killed and four were badly injured by package bombs.

“I’ve been in the place of the families down in the Austin area going through this. It’s just so frustrating because you don’t know who is responsible or why,” said Vance, now a Democratic state court judge seeking the office of chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Moody has always maintained his innocence. Agents arrested him in July 1990 after what leaders called one of the largest federal investigations ever.

Robert S. Vance was a member of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and prosecutors alleged Moody targeted him out of anger at the 11th Circuit’s refusal to overturn a conviction that blocked Moody, who had attended law school, from ever practicing law.

The bomb that killed Robert E. Robinson, a black civil rights attorney from Savannah, Georgia, was meant to cast suspicion on the Ku Klux Klan, as was the bomb sent to the NAACP office, authorities said.

By reconstructing the two bombs that killed Vance and Robinson and disarming the two others, investigators determined they were wrapped in nearly identical packages and mailed using the same kind of stamps. There were also similarities between the materials used in the bombs, including improvised detonators and wiring methods, Thurman said.

It’s the same with any bombing case, Thurman said: Investigators have to consider a multitude of factors, starting with the components of the device. In Moody’s case, the bomb was manufactured in a way that led back to its maker, he said.

After Vance’s death, officials retrieved an intact bomb from the courthouse that housed 11th Circuit judges in Atlanta. Forensic chemist Lloyd Erwin of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recognized a unique element of its construction from a previous case: The ends of the pipe bomb were made of flat, welded pieces of metal rather than the screw caps most commonly used.

That tidbit led investigators to Moody, who had been convicted in a 1972 case involving a bomb with flat, welded end pieces.

Moody’s former wife testified that she purchased bomb-making materials at his direction, and evidence linked Moody to a manual typewriter with a misplaced “a” that experts said had been used to write a letter claiming responsibility for the bombs. One letter talked about a “declaration of war” against the judiciary and complained about the 11th Circuit’s “callous disregard for justice,” court documents show.

A prosecution team led by Louis Freeh, who later became FBI director, convinced a federal jury that Moody was to blame for the bombing wave, and a judge sentenced him to seven life sentences plus 400 years in August 1991.

Moody was convicted on a state capital murder charge in 1996 in Vance’s killing, and he has been on death row since 1997. Now 82, he is the oldest inmate awaiting execution in Alabama.

The Alabama Supreme Court has set Moody’s lethal injection for April 19, but Moody has sent a letter to Vance’s son and others claiming he is the innocent victim of a government conspiracy. A federal defender has asked a federal court to block the execution, arguing the state can’t execute Moody because he’s technically in federal custody. A judge has not yet ruled.

Vance said he feels peace “that justice has been done” in his father’s case, and he doesn’t plan to witness Moody’s execution. But every new bombing, like the string of blasts in Texas, dredges up old feelings.

“Usually these days I get up and don’t really think about what happened 30 years ago,” Vance said. “But when you see that in the media, you go back to December 1989.”

(Image: Alabama Department of Corrections)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

9 hours ago

Alabama Senate votes to track civil asset forfeiture cases

The Alabama Senate has voted to track how often law enforcement authorities use civil actions to seize a person’s property when the person hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

Senators on Wednesday voted 25-1 for the bill. It now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of law enforcement seizing property through a civil action for suspected criminal activity. Republican Sen. Arthur Orr had originally sought to require a criminal conviction for property seizures.


Advocates argued the practice was abused and government should not take a person’s property without a criminal conviction.

The revamped bill tracks cases instead of banning or altering the practice. Prosecutors and law enforcement authorities argued the civil seizures are a valuable crime-fighting tool and people had due process.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

10 hours ago

Gun control, arming teachers bills dead for Alabama session

Gun control proposals failed in the Alabama Legislature after most Republican committee members skipped out on Wednesday debate on the bills, including a proposal to raise the age to buy an AR-15 or similar rifle.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee canceled a scheduled meeting after only four members, mostly Democrats, attended. The committee has 11 members.

The lack of action likely kills the bills for the session. The committee inaction came a day after the House of Representatives failed to bring a Republican bill to arm teachers up for vote, also signaling the demise of that proposal.


Rep. Juandalynn Givan, a Birmingham Democrat, said the lack of attendance for the gun control debate shows that Alabama lawmakers are not serious about discussing substantive changes to gun laws.

“Vote it up or vote it down. Don’t be cowards. …. You can’t show up at the meeting to at least have a conversation?” Givan said.

Givan referenced how students walked out of high schools across the country last week in national protests against gun violence. “Our kids walked out of school last week to take a stand, and we can’t come to a meeting to take a vote. What does that say about the leadership in the state of Alabama?”

Givan’s bill would have raised the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21. At least two legislatures, including Florida’s, approved similar measures after last month’s shooting at a Florida high school that claimed 17 lives.

The committee was also scheduled to debate two other gun control bills by Democrats. One would allow judges to temporarily take firearms from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Another was a long-shot proposal to ban sales of AR-15’s and similar weapons.

The separate Republican proposal to arm teachers — another idea introduced in the wake of the Florida shooting __ also stalled in the legislative session expected to wrap up next week.

The House of Representatives adjourned Tuesday without debating a bill by Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth of Guntersville that would allow designated teachers and school administrators, to carry, or access, firearms in school after undergoing training.

Republican lawmakers appeared divided over the proposal that got pushback from some educators and groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It would have also likely faced a filibuster by Democrats. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, in a statement signaling the bills demise, said that: “I can offer a personal guarantee that this issue will be revisited when the Legislature convenes its next session.”

Ainsworth said Wednesday that he believed he had the votes to narrowly clear a procedural hurdle and pass the legislation, but it faced time constraints and an expected filibuster.

Ainsworth said many schools cannot afford to keep an armed law enforcement officer, known as a school resource officer, on campus. He said he and other lawmakers will sign a petition urging Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special session this summer on school safety.

“We’ve got over 500 schools in our state that don’t have any armed protection. In my opinion, that is an urgent need that needs to be addressed,” Ainsworth said.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama eyes potential economic impact of fatal deer disease

A fatal deer disease is inching closer to Alabama, where whitetail deer are the most popular game animal and hunting generates a $1.8 billion yearly economic impact.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that a dead buck tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Mississippi’s Issaquena County last month; until then, the closest state to Alabama with the neurological disease was Arkansas.


Chuck Sykes with the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division says it’s unlikely a diseased deer would wander “over an imaginary line on a map,” but that infected meat or animals could be brought in knowingly or unknowingly. Alabama has banned the import of carcasses from states where CWD has been confirmed.

The department says states with CWD have seen an up to 40 percent decrease in hunting license sales.

(Image: Outdoor Alabama)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

Fort Rucker, Maxwell Air Force Base and more recently discussed in House defense appropriations subcommittee hearings

Serving on the House Appropriations Committee gives me a valuable and unique opportunity to participate in the conversations surrounding funding for the various functions of our federal government.

It’s hard to believe it, but the debates on funding for the Fiscal Year 2019 have already begun. I’ve been glad to be part of these important discussions and advocate for programs that are critically important to the State of Alabama and our country as a whole.

Recently the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, on which I’m grateful to serve, held hearings to review the Fiscal Year 2019 budget requests from various services. So far during this budget request season, our subcommittee has heard from the Navy and the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Army.


I was glad to take part in all these discussions for several reasons. I have always been a strong advocate for properly supporting our military so that our men and women in uniform have everything they need when we send them into harm’s way. Secondly, our state and district have a very large military presence, and I consider fighting for our interests one of my greatest responsibilities in Congress.

When the Air Force testified before Defense Appropriations, I was glad to have the opportunity to have a conversation with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff General David Goldfein. You may remember that Secretary Wilson was the key decision maker for the F-35 mission. We talked about the Air Force’s priorities for the next year, and I thanked her in person for making the decision to send the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field in Montgomery. As I told Secretary Wilson, the men and women of the 187th could not be more thrilled about this extraordinary opportunity, and our entire state and community share in this excitement.

When the Navy and Marine Corps came before the subcommittee to discuss their budget request, I asked Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson about the F-35 mission’s potential to enable the Navy fleet as a whole to be more capable. I was thrilled when he assured me that yes, this would definitely be the case. In my role on the Appropriations Committee, I will also continue to support the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program manufactured in Mobile as well as the other important priorities for our state.

During the Army’s testimony before Defense Appropriations, I reviewed the Army’s budget request with Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper and Chief of Staff General Mark Milley. The people of Southeast Alabama care greatly about the Army, and we are so proud that our very own Fort Rucker is the home of Army Aviation. Unfortunately, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget request for Army Aviation aircraft is significantly reduced from this year, so I pressed Secretary Esper about this. I appreciated his response and his assurance that operations will proceed as usual at Fort Rucker. This news on top of the announcement we recently received that 17 Lakota helicopters will soon be added to the fleet at Fort Rucker are both great indications that this proud military installation in our backyard will continue to excel for years to come. Of course, in my role on the Appropriations Committee, I will continue push for strong Army Aviation funding.

I deeply appreciate these distinguished military leaders for taking the time to review their budgets and priorities with us. Each of these individuals have led lives of dedicated service to our country, and I am grateful to their families for the many sacrifices made on our behalf. I will continue to prioritize the national security of this great nation, and as always, I will never stop advocating for the important work being done in Alabama’s Second District at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

1 day ago

Alabama senator says Congress must act on gun violence

(Doug Jones Campaign/Facebook)

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones says Congress must address gun violence, even as lawmakers protect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.

In his maiden speech to the Senate, Jones says the nation has reached a “tipping point” on gun violence following the mass shooting at a Florida high school and activism led by surviving students.


Jones is a Democrat who won a special election in December. He compared students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to young people who demonstrated after four girls were killed in a Birmingham church bombing in 1963. Jones later prosecuted the bombers.

He said the students were “awakening the consciousness of America regarding gun violence” and urged Congress to adopt a series of measures, including expansion of background checks for gun purchases.

(Image: Doug Jones/Facebook)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Hot dog chili sauce recalled due to mislabeling

A Tennessee company has issued a recall of Southgate Hot Dog Chili Sauce distributed in 13 states due to mislabeling.

Vietti Foods in Nashville said it is recalling approximately 200 cases of 15-ounce cans of the chili sauce, UPC 0 71846 95242 6, LOT # P642 M1217 70026, marked on the bottom of the can.

Vietti said some of the cans may contain dumplings with chicken, which contains egg and wheat not listed on the label, and could cause a serious or life-threatening reaction in people with allergies.


The product was distributed through retail stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

No illnesses have been reported in connection with this problem.

Return cans to place of purchase for a refund.

(Image: FDA)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama man sentenced in theme park fraud


A man who promised to build a $3.5 billion theme park in northwest Alabama is going to prison for fraud.

A judge in Florence sentenced Bryan Keith Robinson of Killen to 10 years in prison during a hearing Tuesday. Robinson was ordered to repay investors more than $7 million.

Robinson announced plans three years ago to build DreamVision SoundScape, a 1,400-acre amusement park in the Shoals area of northwest Alabama. He and others also announced plans for a similar project in Texas.


Neither park was ever built, and Robinson pleaded guilty to fraud.

The TimesDaily reports that court documents indicate 42 people who invested in Robinson’s plan, with the money supposedly going to finance the project. Instead, authorities allege Robinson spent the money on personal expenses in a Ponzi-style scheme.

(Image: Pixabay)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama lawmakers approve execution by nitrogen gas


Alabama lawmakers voted Tuesday to allow the use of nitrogen gas to execute death row inmates, a method that has so far not been used to carry out a death sentence.

The Alabama House of Representatives approved the measure on a 75-23 vote. A spokesman for Gov. Kay Ivey said the governor will review the bill before making a decision whether to sign it into law.


The bill would allow executions by asphyxiating inmates with nitrogen gas if lethal injection drugs are unavailable or lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional. Supporters argued the state needs another method of carrying out death sentences as drug companies become hesitant to supply chemicals for executions and lethal injection faces continued court challenges.

“It would simply put him to sleep. It’s humane. It’s quick, and it’s painless,” Republican Rep. Jim Hill of Moody said during debate.

Opponents of the bill questioned how lawmakers could assert it would be painless since the method hasn’t been tried.

“We had Yellow Mama. Now, we are going to bring back the gas chamber,” Rep. Thomas Jackson, a Democrat from Thomasville, said referencing the nickname for the state’s yellow-painted electric chair.

The Death Penalty Information Center said that no state has carried out an execution by nitrogen gas. Two states — Oklahoma and Mississippi — have voted to authorize execution by nitrogen gas as a backup method of execution, according to center.

Oklahoma announced last week that it will begin using nitrogen for executions, when the state resumes death sentences, because of difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said then that the execution procedure would likely involve the use of a mask placed over the inmate’s head, but he said the details would have to be worked out.

(Image: Wikicommons)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Sessions to address black law enforcement group in Alabama

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be in his home state of Alabama this week to address a black law enforcement group that is sometimes at odds with the Trump administration.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Birmingham says Sessions will speak to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives on Friday.


The group has been critical of President Donald Trump for his disparaging comments about immigrants from Africa and Haiti. It has also criticized Trump’s move to let police agencies obtain surplus military equipment.

The organization opposed Trump’s pardon of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (ahr-PY’-oh) and noted Sessions’ past opposition to clemency.

Sessions will speak at a meeting that includes numerous large-city police chiefs and Justice Department officials.

Sessions was a U.S. senator from Alabama before joining the administration.

(Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama governor offering reward for info in 2016 homicide

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is offering $5,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in a 2016 slaying in Dallas County.

WSFA-TV reports on Dec. 16, 2016, 19-year-old Jaequan (JAY-kwan) Simmons was found unconscious in a vehicle, with gunshot wounds. He died shortly after.


Authorities say the shooting remains unsolved, and there are no suspects.

Simmons graduated from Keith High School in 2015 and was a star on the basketball team.

Ivey’s proclamation says only private citizens without familial connections to law enforcement are eligible for the reward.

(Image: Facebook)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Storms strike Alabama college, leave trail of damage across South

With violent weather plowing through the Southeast, the kitchen windows exploded at Richard Brasher’s home in eastern Alabama.

Using couch cushions for protection, Brasher hid in the bathtub with his wife, daughter and two grandchildren as the storm passed near Jacksonville State University. The roar was terrifying, Brasher said: “I thought we were gone,” he said.


Officials suspected a tornado was to blame for the damage there. With electrical transformers exploding and trees crashing down all around, Brasher, 60, said it felt like wind “picked up and shook the whole house.”

“We were scared to death. It blew the paint off my house,” he said.

The storm threatened millions of people across the Deep South, prompting tornado warnings Monday in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The area around Jacksonville State University in Alabama was among the hardest hit and thousands of buildings and vehicles were battered by large hail after the night of violent weather.

Several shelters opened, schools were closed, trees and power lines were down Tuesday morning. Jacksonville State advised people to avoid traveling near campus. Most students were away for spring break.

Part of the roof was ripped off the nursing school and Pete Mathews Coliseum, a 3,500-seat basketball arena. Pieces of lumber and bent metal covered the ground along with insulation that looked like yellow cotton candy.

To the west in Cullman, the lots of automobile dealerships were full of cars and trucks that no longer had windows. The sheriff shared a photo of a county jail bombarded by hail but said the prisoners were fine.

Schools were closed in several counties because of damage. Alabama Power Co. said more than 9,000 homes and businesses were without electricity.

Forecasters had warned that the storms would threaten more than 29 million people, raising the risk of powerful tornadoes, damaging winds and hail the size of tennis balls.

Cities in northern Alabama reported power outages and the National Weather Service in Huntsville reported at least three confirmed tornadoes in the area.

The National Weather Service said five teams were out in Alabama assessing storm damage.

The weather service was also sending survey crews to at least two Georgia communities to investigate whether tornadoes caused widespread damage to homes there.

In one neighborhood near Atlanta, “it looks like someone did a bombing run down the street,” Georgia’s insurance commissioner, Ralph Hudgens, said after touring the scene Tuesday. Multiple homes were destroyed in the subdivision southwest of Atlanta, he said.

“I talked to people who were in bed when it hit, and they huddled in the bathroom with the Bible, praying,” Hudgens said. “They put the Bible against the door and they put the children in the tub. They held hands and prayed and asked the Lord to protect them. Nothing happened to them but the house was totally destroyed.”

More damage was reported in Haralson, Georgia, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Atlanta. The Haralson County School District said schools would be closed Tuesday due to storm damage “throughout our community.”

The same storm system that battered Alabama and Georgia was taking aim Tuesday at a large part of Florida and coastal communities in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Much of north Florida and the entire Georgia and South Carolina coasts would be at an “enhanced” risk for severe storms Tuesday, which could include damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes, the National Storm Prediction Center. A small part of the North Carolina coastline was also included in the area most likely to see severe weather.

The area most at risk for Tuesday’s storms is heavily populated, with more than 10 million people and major Florida cities such as Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando, Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina.

The Federal Aviation Administration placed a ground stop at Tampa International Airport for a time Tuesday afternoon because of storms sweeping the Southeast, prompting dozens of delays and cancellations. But by 3:45 p.m., flights again taking off. Meanwhile, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay, had to be closed because of high winds, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.


(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama House committee to debate raising age for rifle purchases

Alabama lawmakers will discuss whether to raise the minimum age to buy an AR-15, or similar rifle, from 18 to 21.

The House Public Safety Committee on Wednesday will debate the bill by Rep. Juandalynn Givan.

The Birmingham Democrat said a vote will show if lawmakers are serious about making substantive changes to gun laws.


It is one of a number of proposals introduced after the Feb. 14 school shooting that killed 17 people in Florida.

Gun control measures have so far stalled in the GOP-controlled Alabama Legislature.  The committee will debate two others Wednesday.

One would allow judges to prohibit a person from possessing firearms for up to a year if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.  Another would ban the sale of assault-style rifles.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama votes 98-0 to close loophole in drunk driving law


Stricter regulations will be imposed on drunk drivers after a bill to close a loophole in the law and reduce road deaths passed a final vote in the House Tuesday. The vote was 98-0.

The legislation sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jim McClendon will require drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device after their first offense. An ignition interlock analyzes a driver’s breath and prevents a car from being started if alcohol is detected.


Alabama passed an ignition interlock bill in 2014 but didn’t require it for offenders who enter pretrial diversion. A similar law in Mississippi requires the device on the first offense. That state stopped more than double the amount of drunk drivers than Alabama in 2016, according to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Longtime journalist, Tuscaloosa native and Pulitzer Prize winner Les Payne dies

Longtime New York journalist and Tuscaloosa native Les Payne has died at age 76.

Payne’s family confirmed his death to Newsday, where he worked for nearly four decades, rising through the ranks from reporter to associate managing editor. The newspaper reports Tuesday that Payne died unexpectedly Monday night at his home in Harlem.


Newsday Editor Deborah Henley says Payne established a standard of journalistic excellence that has been “a beacon for all who have come after him.”

Payne oversaw foreign and national coverage, was an editor of New York Newsday and wrote a column. He was part of a Newsday reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for a series titled “The Heroin Trail.”

He also was a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

(Image: Darlene Lewis/Vimeo)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Auburn takes part in urban tree canopy study

Auburn will take part in an urban tree canopy study.

The Opelika-Auburn News reports the city of Auburn and the Green Infrastructure Center entered an agreement to evaluate the canopy, which is layered with leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above. The study looks to improve the planning of any future reforestation efforts.


Recommendations for tree removal will focus on elimination of exotic invasive trees to reduce over-competition, increase diversity and increase forest health.

The Green Infrastructure Center is a non-profit organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia. The organization will use satellite imagery to map the land cover of Auburn.

“The study will also help create healthier communities by realizing the many benefits that trees provide other than just clean air and shade,” said Karen Firehock, executive director of Green Infrastructure Center.

Firehock said Auburn is one of 11 cities chosen for the study. Other cities include Charleston, South Carolina, Jacksonville, Florida, Norcross, Georgia, and Lynchburg, Virginia.

The Alabama Forestry Commission is administering a grant to fund the project.

“We’ve been trying to work with the Alabama Forestry Commission for the last couple of years on a variety of projects focusing on green infrastructure,” said Daniel Ballard, watershed division manager for the city of Auburn’s water resource management team. “Trees are the original green infrastructure. They have a few different programs that they manage and one of these being this federal grant that they administer that focuses on urban forests for the specific purpose of improving storm water management.”

Ballard said Auburn was a good fit, because of the city’s continuous growth. He said the city’s impaired watersheds, which are water quality areas of concern, will be part of the study and are always a priority for the city.

“There are areas within the Parkerson Mill Creek watershed, the Saugahatchee Creek watershed, or the Moores Mill Creek watershed that are all priorities for our department,” he said.

Ballard said Auburn was already pursuing a green infrastructure master plan, which will integrate parks and natural areas, greenways, bike paths, sidewalks and habitat corridors.

“This project filled in a gap in that master planning process,” Ballard said. “Although we’re not evaluating urban tree canopy in our green infrastructure master plan, we are in that process looking holistically at the way we manage storm water and not just trees.”

(Image: Auburn University)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Alabama civil asset forfeiture reform calls for transparency


When Opelika police officer Benjamin Carswell pulled over Daryl Gray for following too closely in August 2014, Carswell found $32,660 in the vehicle. Gray told Carswell he was on his way to buy a car, but the large amount triggered suspicion.

The officer seized the cash and handed it over to the Drug Enforcement Administration less than a month later. After two months, Daryl Gray filed a complaint in court through his attorney Joe Reed. A local judge ruled a year later that his court couldn’t decide on the case because the federal government kept the cash.


Gray didn’t get his money back and was never charged with a crime.

What happened to Gray is legal under the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture. Instituted to fight drug crime, it allows police to seize property they have reason to believe was criminally gained – even when the owner isn’t yet charged with a crime – and keep assets with a court order.

Fourteen states require a conviction for forfeiture. In Alabama, state Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Arnold Mooney, both Republicans, proposed legislation this year to require a conviction before assets could be seized. The bills ignited three weeks of debate and received so much pushback from police and prosecutors that they were shelved. On Thursday, Mooney introduced a new bill that requires law enforcement to gather detailed data on seized assets starting in 2019 and publish an annual report online beginning 2020. However, it wouldn’t change the current legal process.

Artur Davis, senior consultant with The Institute for Justice and former U.S. congressman involved in the negotiations, said the bill would move Alabama from being one of the least transparent states to having comprehensive data – although it still falls short of the reforms he and other advocates wanted.

Critics of civil asset forfeiture say it fuels policing for profit because law enforcement gains millions of dollars from individuals not always proven guilty of a crime.

Robert Bradford’s mother fought forfeiture proceedings after her husband faced drug charges and committed suicide in Chilton County in 2009. She proved her innocence and kept her house.

“The problem was that there was no conviction that had taken place, but they were asserting the property belongs to the sheriff’s department. But it’s not the American way at all,” said Bradford, 40, who now lives in the house.

Law enforcement and prosecutors argue civil asset forfeiture is necessary to disempower criminals.

“It’s a tool we have to use to fight crime,” said Clark Morris, a U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. “It’s not about taking innocent people’s property. It’s about making our communities safe.”

Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the Office of Prosecution Services, said that nothing can be seized without a criminal investigation or kept without due legal process under Alabama’s 2014 civil asset forfeiture law. He supported transparency to maintain trust in the police, who have “a strong respect for the property rights of law-abiding citizens.”

But Sara Zampierin, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the process burdens the property owner to prove his or her innocence. Judges tend to rule in favor of police, who only have to prove to the court’s “reasonable satisfaction” that assets were criminally gained to keep them.

The law center and Alabama Appleseed, also an advocacy organization, found that property owners were never charged with a crime in a quarter of more than 1,000 civil asset forfeitures in 2015. Although police say forfeiture targets major drug kingpins, the amount of cash was less than $1,000 in around half of the cases. Law enforcement agencies received $2.2 million from state courts and $3.1 million from the federal government in 2015.

Guy Gunter, Opelika city’s attorney, said in a statement that police received around $100,000 forfeited assets over the last three years. The department’s budget is more than $9 million.

Gunter said police complied with federal forfeiture laws in Gray’s case. Gray received a letter from the DEA letting him claim his property in November 2014. He never responded. Gray’s attorney Reed said his client didn’t understand the process until it was too late. An owner must file a claim contesting the forfeiture within 30 days.

At least 80 percent of DEA seizures in the last decade were uncontested, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General reported in 2017.

Orr’s and Mooney’s original bills prohibited Alabama state agencies from giving assets directly to the federal government. That was omitted in the new version.

The bill faces a difficult deadline for passage in the two weeks left this legislative session.

(Image: PublicDomainPictures.Net)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)