1 month ago

Former Etowah Co. sheriff sues ALdotcom, law enforcement officers over damaging story

Former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin is suing for defamation the individuals involved in a 2018 news story in which a woman accused him of illegal activities, including statutory rape.

The defendants listed in the suit include current Etowah County Sheriff Jonathan Horton, Oneonta Police Chief Charles Clifton, the parent company of Alabama Media Group’s AL.com and reporter Connor Sheets.

Horton was Rainbow City’s police chief at the time the story was published. He later beat Entrekin in a Republican primary to become the county sheriff.

The news story at the center of the lawsuit was published in 2018 under the headline “Police investigating allegations Alabama’s ‘Beach House Sheriff’ had sex with underage girls.”


Entrekin was given the moniker ‘Beach House Sheriff’ because of a widely shared report from earlier in 2018 that detailed how he used an old Alabama law to keep for himself hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for feeding the county’s prisoners; the beach house had a similar price tag to the amount of money he kept.

Entrekin’s lawyers argue in the suit that the publication of the article alleging rape was “reckless and malicious” and in their mind more due to a collective animus from the defendants than proper journalistic and policing practices.

The claims at the center of the 2018 article are made by a woman named Mary Elizabeth Cross, who alleged that Entrekin committed statutory rape by having sexual relations with her at drug-fueled parties in 1992 when he was 29 and she was 15. Cross was age 41 in 2018 when she came forward with the allegations.

Entrekin told AL.com at the time, “I’ve never had sex with any 15-year-old girl or had drugs around or anything. I have never done drugs in my life. That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard of. Never, ever has anything like that happened before.”

Cross brought the accusations to Horton in 2018, who was police chief of Rainbow City at the time. Horton was also then running against Entrekin in a campaign to be Etowah County Sheriff, so he referred the case to Oneonta Police Chief Charles Clifton.

Entrekin’s lawyers argue in the suit that Oneonta Chief Clifton has been “harboring a personal grudge against” against Entrekin “since the 1990s” that stemmed from “past professional interactions.”

The AL.com report says Clifton is the individual who contacted reporter Connor Sheets about the allegation, and two reporters and law enforcement officers interviewed her together during a long drive.

The lawyers for the former sheriff make similar claims that both Sheets and Horton participated in the article out of personal dislike for Entrekin.

Horton’s dislike, they argue, stems from what was in 2018 his ongoing campaign against Entrekin for the county sheriff position.

Sheets, they allege, harbors “a demonstrated dislike for Alabama sheriffs generally, and Mr. Entrekin in particular.”

In addition to Sheets, the suit names Advance Local Media, which publishes AL.com, along with the cities of Oneonta and Rainbow City, which employed Clifton and Horton respectively at the time of the article’s publishing.

The AL.com report cited a friend of Cross’, who the reporter allowed to remain anonymous, as corroborating the existence of the parties where young girls were with older men around the time of the alleged criminal behavior.

Entrekin’s complaint says that he did not purchase the lakeside property until 1995, three years after the incidents are reported to have happened. Additionally, a boat structure cited in the allegation against Entrekin was not built until 2009, his lawsuit contends as evidence in his favor.

The attorney for Entrekin filed the lawsuit in Etowah County Circuit Court. It can be accessed here.

The defendants in the suit did not return calls for comment left by the Gadsden Times, the paper closest to the relevant officials.

Entrekin’s lawyers said in a statement that their client “seeks to correct the record and repair some of the damage these defendants have done to his reputation and employment possibilities.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

14 mins ago

Retirement Systems of Alabama head: Trump ‘enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America’

Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) CEO Dr. David Bronner had some harsh words for President Donald Trump this month.

In August’s RSA Advisor, a monthly publication from the group, Bronner entitled his normal column, “The ‘Economic Terror’ of 2020.”

“We are slightly past halfway of 2020 and to be honest, it feels like a decade of problems thrown at the world in a mere six months. Unfortunately, our president enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America,” he wrote to begin the column.

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“I have known President Trump for over 25 years,” Bronner continued. “We have played golf twice, and sat beside each other during numerous public and private events – the Miss Universe pageant and the Elevated Acre Park dedication in New York City. Our relationship cooled when he built Trump Towers with illegal immigrants from Poland and abused contractors in the process.”

“Take his unusual management style, add to it the world’s worst pandemic in our lifetime, toss in legal protests (don’t forget that is how women got to vote), some taken over by rioters – and here comes hurricane season,” he warned. “How do these things affect and impact Alabama? When Alabama started to develop tourism 27 years ago, we had about $1.8 billion in tourist revenue – most of that was from the beaches. Revenue grew to $17 billion in 2019. If a solution to COVID-19 is not found, that could easily be cut by 50% to 75%.”

Bronner subsequently highlighted vaccine development efforts as a source of optimism before making some economic observations and predictions.

He then concluded the column with praise for former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who recently denounced President Trump.

“In time, we will get past these serious problems – from racism to health pandemics – if we listen to the real heroes of America like General James N. Mattis, our former Secretary of Defense: ‘In unity, there is strength,'” Bronner wrote.

The Advisor issue, including Bronner’s column, is hosted on RSA’s website online, which utilizes an “AL.gov” domain.

A physical copy was also sent to the more than 370,000 RSA members, who are State employees and retirees. Additionally, Advisor copies are traditionally placed in RSA-owned buildings and certain governmental buildings, including the State House, for distribution. The Alabama Great Seal is displayed just above Bronner’s column.

The federal government maintains “.gov” domains and regulates their usage. It is the policy of the federal government that “political information” not be shared on “.gov” websites, which could put the RSA’s domain in jeopardy.

The Code of Alabama states, “No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”

Bronner is the highest paid state employee in Alabama. In Fiscal Year 2019, he was paid $754,684.98, according to records published by the Alabama Department of Finance.

This is not the first time the RSA head has publicly attacked Trump or made controversial political statements.

During a meeting of the Alabama State Employees Association in October 2015, Bronner said of then-candidate Trump, “I know the bastard, he ain’t worth anything. I assure you, if Mr. Trump was president, you wouldn’t like it. That I can promise.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

24 mins ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to boost Alabama investment by $830 million

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM), the joint venture between automakers Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to make an additional $830 million investment in Alabama to incorporate new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

“Toyota’s presence in Alabama continues to build excitement about future opportunities that lie ahead, both for our economy and for the residents of our great state,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change.”

The additional investment brings the total figure in the state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville to $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.

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The investment reaffirms Mazda and Toyota’s commitment to produce the highest-quality products at all of their production facilities.

The investment also accommodates production line modifications to enhance manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be-announced Toyota SUV that will be both produced at the Alabama plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 units of a future Mazda crossover model and up to 150,000 units of the Toyota SUV each year.

HIRING PLANS

MTM continues to plan for up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later in 2020. Initial hiring began in January.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home. Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come,” he added.

Full-scale construction of the Alabama plant continues, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical.Construction began in early 2019.

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line,” he added.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Colin Daly said.

“We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our community and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.”

MAGNIFYING IMPACT

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said MTM’s new investment will magnify the economic impact of a project that is poised to transform the North Alabama region.

“With this enhanced investment, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is adding new technology and capabilities to a manufacturing facility that was already designed to be one of the most efficient factories in the automotive industry,” Canfield said.

“We’re confident that the groundbreaking collaboration between Mazda and Toyota will drive growth not only for the companies but also for North Alabama for generations.”

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

2 hours ago

Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

There is good news in Alabama’s fight against the coronavirus this week, with a number of key metrics including hospitalizations showing the state making progress while the disease remains highly active.

Hospitals across the state admitted an average of 108 COVID-19 patients per day over the last week — a number that is far higher than preferred by healthcare professionals — but also the first time the rate has declined on a week to week basis since the beginning of the pandemic.

Previously, the seven-day average of hospitalizations had hovered between 160 and 200 since July 17.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the coronavirus information hubs BamaTracker and Johns Hopkins University for the data in this article.

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There was an average of 1,156 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the Yellowhammer State over the last seven days. That is is down from an average of 1,415 for the week concluding on August 6, a roughly 18% decline.

(BamaTracker)

Notably, Alabama’s total number of coronavirus cases since the virus reached the state exceeded 100,000 this week and reached a total of 101,491 as of Thursday morning.

Another good sign for the state is that seven counties reported no new cases on Thursday. For virtually all of July and early August, only one or two counties each day did not report a case.

Especially encouraging to infectious disease experts is the decline in the percentage of tests for COVID-19 that are coming back positive.

According to the data, 13% of the tests given each of the last seven days in Alabama have come back positive, and though that is well above the national average of 7.8%, it is a welcomed decline from a statewide high of over 20% that happened over the week ending August 2.

BamaTracker says the ideal range of tests coming back positive is 1%-5%.

On average, 24 people with coronavirus died each day for the last week in Alabama, one of the highest rates from throughout the pandemic.

(BamaTracker)

The state’s death toll now stands at 1,821 with another 69 people who are presumed to have perished with COVID-19 but have not yet been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to experts, a surge in new cases follows the occurrence where the virus was spread by about seven to 14 days. A corresponding increase in hospitalizations occurs around two weeks after the surge in new cases, and the concluding uptick in deaths comes two to four weeks after the increase in hospitalizations.

Those expert findings would indicate Alabama’s increase in deaths stems from behavior occurring around the weekend of July 4, though figures like State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris are quick to point out that something as complex as the fluctuations of a pandemic are never attributable to one single factor.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

3 hours ago

Black Alabama Sons of Confederate Veterans member opposes monument, flag removal

Daniel Sims, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has added a unique perspective to the debate over removing Confederate monuments and flags from public display.

Sims, who is black, interviewed with Huntsville-area WHNT about the subject this week.

Wearing both a hat and shirt depicting the Confederate flag, while also holding a full-size Confederate flag on a staff, Sims told WHNT, “Regardless [of] how the next person feels, I’m not going to take my flag down.”

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“If I’ve got anything to do with it, ain’t no monument going to come down,” he added.

Sims was reportedly adopted as a child and now holds his adopted family’s heritage as his own.

“My whole family’s white,” Sims explained. “[I] went to an all-white school, grew up in an all-white neighborhood. My grandfather was white, and he was the main one who fought in this war here (the Civil War). And he’s taught me everything I know.”

WHNT reported that the interview took place in Albertville, which is located in Marshall County. According to the most recent data published by the Census Bureau, the county’s population is 79.8% white, 14.7% Hispanic or Latino and 3.2% black.

About the push to take down a confederate monument and flag specifically outside the Albertville courthouse, Sims added, “It may make my blood boil if they just come up here and feel like they could just tear it down. I don’t see me still living if they do that right there. That monument ain’t hurting nobody. That monument ain’t killing a soul. It ain’t talking bad to nobody. It ain’t even racist.”

Watch:

The clip has gone viral, garnering about 400,000 views in 12 hours. The WHNT reporter who conducted the interview noted in a tweet that Sims has reminded some viewers of an old “Chapelle Show” character, Clayton Bigsby.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Byrne thanks Trump admin for ‘continuing to put American workers first’ by holding off on adding component parts to Airbus tariffs

U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) praised the Trump administration’s decision this week to hold off on implementing new tariffs on component parts used in Airbus’ Mobile assembly plant.

Airbus, headquartered in Europe, has been in the middle of a trade dispute between the United States and the European Union since 2004.

The company has an assembly plant in Mobile that employs 1,100 people, and business groups in the area have long sought to keep the imported component parts that are fashioned into aircraft at the plant from being added to the list of products subject to a tariff by the U.S. government.

“I thank the Trump Administration for this decision and continuing to put American workers first,” Byrne said in a statement on Thursday after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer decided against placing tariffs on the component parts.

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The United States kept in place tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of goods from several European countries as part of the ongoing dispute. Many of the goods remaining under tariff are consumer products like food and beverage products.

The ongoing dispute was heightened in October 2019 after the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a ruling in the United States’ favor, saying that many European nations had never ended their improper subsidies for Airbus that have long been at the heart of the issue.

The Trump administration first decided not to impose tariffs on the imported components shortly after the October decision by the WTO, a choice met at the time by the City of Mobile with “a great sense of relief and gratitude.”

In further praise of the extension of that decision, Byrne said on Thursday, “I have no doubt we will see the fruits of this decision as Mobile continues on the path to being a worldwide center of aviation excellence.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95