A two-year probe by the FBI into allegations of systematic planting of evidence by the Dothan Police Department failed to generate a single substantiated case, according to a 38-page FBI summary.
The summary, obtained by the Dothan Eagle through a Freedom of Information request and dated July 15, 2018, documented more than 40 interviews conducted in 2016 and 2017, a few months after a local blog post alleged a widespread conspiracy in the department to plant drugs on black residents. The blog post was retweeted thousands of times and gained some national attention.
Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish requested an FBI probe in response to the allegations. Agents with the FBI interviewed more than 30 people in two days at the La Quinta Inn in Dothan on June 28 and 29, 2016. Only a few of those interviewed alleged evidence planting. The rest leveled a variety of other complaints including excessive force, wrongful prosecution, inadequate legal representation, overly punitive sentences, and police retaliation. The FBI then conducted additional follow-up interviews in the following months and reviewed associated cases. The FBI supplemented the fresh interviews by reviewing previous complaints made to police related to evidence planting.
Although the summary did indicate some allegations required follow-up work, none were related to evidence planting. Some allegations also indicated improper procedure was followed and officers were disciplined accordingly.
Overall, Parrish said FBI personnel spent more than a year in Dothan reviewing allegations and documents.
The names of the complainants and alleged perpetrators were redacted from the document.
One complainant alleged the Dothan Police Department failed to put President Barack Obama’s photo on the wall after he was elected president and instead kept President George W. Bush’s photo on display. The FBI walked the length of the department and interviewed 30 police officers about the allegation. After the allegation could not be substantiated, documents indicate the complainant “changed his story.”
Another complainant alleged issues involving a divorce with a Dothan police officer and asked to be put into witness protection. The agency declined.
Four cases are considered still pending. All involve excessive force complaints in which civil lawsuits were filed.
Parrish said Dothan Police allowed the FBI to have full access to Internal Affairs documents related to federal criminal civil rights complaints, made officers available for interviews and allowed FBI personnel access to the entire building during the agency’s time in Dothan.
“I haven’t read the entire summary, but I am happy it was released,” Parrish said. “We gave the FBI access to our files, both internal and external. They spent a year at the station going through information with our cooperation.
“As I have said on many occasions before, we are dedicated to professional service with transparency and accountability,” Parrish added. “We are not perfect, but we are approachable and accountable. If someone has a complaint against an officer, we will investigate it thoroughly and will continue to investigate it thoroughly.”
Below are a summary of selected complaints and any follow-up investigative work by the FBI:
» Complainant was interviewed Nov. 2, 2016, and Nov. 22, 2016, alleging a large conspiracy among multiple officials and organizations in Dothan. The complainant alleged the mayor was a Nazi and the chief of police was in the Ku Klux Klan. According to the FBI summary, the complainant “blamed Dothan’s corruption on the Jews.” She told the FBI she believed a tracker had been placed on her vehicle and that her email had been hacked. She alleged a conspiracy by the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority in 2008 to prevent her from buying the old Saints Apartment building.
In 2008, a woman claimed her attempts to buy the Saints Apartment building were ignored by the DDRA. She later alleged numerous environmental violations during a demolition project related to the building. After an investigation by the EPA, the DDRA paid a $540 fine to the EPA and conducted additional testing to ensure the soil was not affected by any harmful material.
The FBI summary did not indicate any follow-up investigative action by the FBI concerning the allegations.
» Complainant alleged he was severely beaten by police and framed for drugs during his arrest as a juvenile on Feb. 5, 1997. The FBI obtained the complainant’s medical records with his consent and deemed the allegations unfounded.
“In fact, after officers successfully got (the complainant) to spit out the crack cocaine he tried to swallow, he only received minor cuts and bruises and refused medical treatment at the scene,” the report stated.
The same complainant alleged he was arrested and framed for drug possession on June 20, 2015. The FBI obtained his official complaint with Dothan PD Internal Affairs, which documented a different complaint over the release of his impounded vehicle. The investigation resulted in a reprimand to the officer for failing to file paperwork in a timely manner. The vehicle was released without incident at no extra cost to the owner. The complainant pleaded guilty to the charge of drug possession with intent to distribute.
The same complainant also alleged he was framed for drug possession during an arrest on Sept. 19, 2016. He filed a complaint with Internal Affairs and alleged civil rights violations. The civil rights complaint was dismissed, but a K-9 officer was disciplined for conducting an improper search during the incident. He was removed from the K-9 unit, suspended, and demoted. The charges were dropped.
» Complainant was arrested Nov. 19, 2016, by the Dothan Police Department while officers were investigating a report of a dead body. During the course of the investigation, police noticed an illegally parked Mercedes with a passenger window slightly cracked and an “overwhelming” odor of raw marijuana coming from the vehicle. The complainant declined to give police consent to search the vehicle. After a K-9 sweep around the vehicle indicated the presence of illegal drugs, a Ziploc bag containing 4.5 ounces of what was later identified as marijuana was located. The complainant was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
» On March 21, 2016, a complainant submitted an affidavit to the Dothan Police Department alleging the planting of drug evidence. The affidavit did not list the date, time, or place of the incident. The affidavit contained the word “Bessemer,” which is a town near Birmingham. No other details were provided.
A check of the complainant’s criminal history indicated a 1996 arrest for an active warrant for drug paraphernalia by the Dothan Police Department. Upon exiting the police vehicle at the jail, the complainant allegedly dropped a small plastic bag containing a white powdery substance. The complainant stated the bag was not hers. Video from the jail’s sallyport confirmed the incident, according to the summary. During the complainant’s interview with police in 1996, she admitted to having a drug problem but denied possession of the bag, claiming it had been planted. She later pleaded guilty.
» On June 28, 2016, a complainant expressed anger over the then-open case involving the deaths of Dothan teens J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett in 1999. An arrest was made in the case in March of 2019.
The summary indicated 14 of the documented complaints were civil-related and did not contain any evidence related to federal criminal civil rights violations, so no further investigation was warranted.
A few of the complaints prompted the FBI to conduct assessments, a fact-finding process that is a step below a preliminary investigation.
» A Dothan man claimed excessive force related to an arrest on Sept. 10, 2014. According to the complaint, authorities entered a home looking for a man on a domestic violence complaint. The man said he laid face down and on his stomach when police entered his bedroom and did not resist. However, he said an officer hit him twice. One of the blows fractured his orbital bone. The document does not indicate whether the FBI moved the case to the next level.
A civil lawsuit against the City of Dothan, the police chief, and two Dothan officers was filed in 2016. The City of Dothan and the police chief were removed as defendants. The suit against the two officers settled out of court in early 2019.
» A Dothan man claimed excessive force and civil rights violations based on an encounter with officers at the corner of South Alice Street and Franklin Avenue on June 17, 2013. According to the complaint, the man was waiting for public transportation when he was tackled by officers, handcuffed, and beaten. The man said he never resisted, was released shortly afterward, and never charged with a crime. He filed a civil lawsuit in July of 2013 which was dismissed by the court in 2014.
» A man claimed he was beaten excessively after fleeing from members of the Wiregrass Violent Crime/Drug Task Force on April 20, 2012, in Ozark. The man claimed he did not resist arrest after being captured and sustained injuries that were not treated before his incarceration. The man filed a civil suit in 2014, which was dismissed by the court in 2015.
» An Enterprise man claimed excessive force by Dothan Police during an arrest in October of 2011. He claimed he was run over by an unmarked police vehicle and suffered crushed vocal cords, which caused permanent injury. A civil suit was filed in 2013 against the officers and the department. It was dismissed by the court in 2015.
Follow Lance Griffin on Twitter @EagleLance
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