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.”