Alabama town traffic ticket scandal causes police chief to resign

Brookside, Alabama, a former mining community of about 1,250 people with median household incomes under $40,000, has no traffic lights and only a handful of two-lane roads, but it’s made a lot of money. revenue from traffic fines and vehicle forfeitures in 2020. amounts to nearly half of the city’s $1.2 million budget.

The strange case of the financial income of the town, a suburb of Birmingham, exploded into a scandal after a local news on AL.com last week. It leads to Sheriff Mike Jones of Brookside third resignation on the same day, Governor of Alabama Will Ainsworth requested a state auditand between calls for state and federal investigations.

“This city is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode,” said State Representative Juandalynn Givan, who has called for other town officials to resign. told NBC’s WVTM branch in Birmingham. “It was the Wild, Wild West, and they made their own Wild, Wild West.”

As Brookside’s earnings attract more scrutiny, with Givan planning to hold a town hall Tuesday to allow those who say they have been exploited by the police force to appear, organizations The campaigner is stressing that’s not unusual, and highlights how traffic fines around the country and related fees are being used to fill city coffers at the expense of ordinary people. financially challenged and from communities of color.

The problem came to prominence in after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Browna black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, when a report by The group of defenders in the St. Louis found that black drivers in Ferguson were more likely to be stopped by the police and local courts have abused their power by charging high fines and fees for nonviolent violations, sometimes leading to their unpaid arrest.

Priya Sarathy Jones, national campaign director at the Center for Fees and Charges Justice, which advocates for the elimination of fees in the justice system and that fines should be fairly enforced. “Brookside is the sequel to that story almost 10 years later. It’s a really serious and disgusting story for many reasons.”

According to an investigation by AL.com, Jones, who was hired in 2018, built a police department of 10 or more full-time and part-time officers to patrol the 6 miles of Brookside and the jurisdiction. 1 mile long along Interstate 22, a corridor between Birmingham and Memphis, Tennessee. The paper found that Jones had asked officers to stop motorists so violently that income from traffic fines and vehicle forfeitures increased by 640% from 2018 to 2020, from about $82,000 to around $82,000. more than 610,000 dollars. The town also expanded its towing operation, from 50 in 2018 to 789 in 2020.

Officers in Brookside have been charged in lawsuits for manufacturing to stop traffic, overcharging and “breaking the law,” AL.com reported. They were also accused of using racist language in a predominantly white community, but also with a Black population of almost 25% and a small but growing Latino population. The town’s median household income is under $40,000, according to demographic data.

Jones could not be reached for comment on Friday. In a statement, Brookside City Attorney Mark Parnell said as local prosecutor he “tried to make sure” only meritorious police charges were handled or dismissed. cancel.

“Brookside will continue to work with all authorities to ensure that a full investigation into these matters is completed,” he said.

The city is facing at least five federal lawsuits related to policing.

Bill Dawson, a lawyer in Birmingham, said he had about two dozen people contact him with the allegations, but over the years many were too reluctant to file a complaint. He said people have stories of their cars being towed and left on the side of the road, then impounded by both the town and the company to get their cars back, plus a daily storage fee.

He said he also represents a woman who was stopped in 2019 for driving in the left lane of I-22, which is not technically a crime, and accused police of using a “lane violation”. left” to trap motorists.

The problem for those accused of misconduct, Dawson said, is that officers may be immune to lawsuits if their actions are considered part of their official duties.

The office of Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, declined to comment Friday on the Brookside traffic stops.

Ainsworth, also a Republican, tell AL.com that his office will consider legislative options to determine how to stop towns from taking advantage of motorists passing on highways, a problem that lawmakers acknowledge is happening across the state. state.

But it’s also popular across the country. ONE Report in 2019 on Government magazine found that fines and account forfeitures account for more than 10 percent of general fund revenue for nearly 600 jurisdictions in the country, and in jurisdictions where fines account for more than 20 percent, median income The local average household income is less than $40,000.

Sarathy Jones said the problems in Brookside should be a warning for small towns and cities to check their revenue streams and make sure their local governments don’t turn to law enforcement like swordsmen. money.

Beyond that, she said, relying on fines and fees collected from lower income earners and marginalized communities only serves to further punish them.

“Even if you legally stop someone because they need their lights on, if you give them a ticket, how does that achieve the goal of being someone’s car?” people are more secure?” she speaks. “You’re taking money so they have the ability to fix that light by making them pay a fine.”

Often, a person’s decision to forgo paying a fine becomes deeper, says Sarathy Jones.

“What if $150 is the cost of choosing between feeding my baby, getting medicine, or paying for this fare?” she added. “Their entire financial existence started to spiral, and it was all just the lights on their car not working.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/alabama-towns-traffic-ticketing-scandal-leads-police-chiefs-resignatio-rcna13801 Alabama town traffic ticket scandal causes police chief to resign

Jake Nichol

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