Update: Dothan Police Chief Calls Corruption Accusations "Outright Lies"

Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images.
Update: December 3, 2015 In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish flatly denied accusations by The Henry County Report that members of the Dothan police force had planted drugs and weapons on suspects arrested over the course of nearly two decades.
“There are simply too many outright lies and fabrications in the blog to address individually, but [the writer's] 'opinion' has apparently been taken by many as ‘fact’,” he was quoted as saying by The Dothan Eagle. Parrish told the press that the leaked documents had been redacted in such a way as to promote an agenda, and that the specific allegation presented in said documents had been dealt with at the time.

He also stated that his involvement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, documented in a photograph of him and others standing before a rebel flag, was a demonstration of his enthusiasm for history and pride in ancestors who had fought in the Civil War.

This story was originally published on December 2, 2015.

Whistle-blowers in the police department of Dothan, AL, have leaked to the press evidence that multiple law-enforcement officers spent nearly two decades planting drugs and weapons on young Black men, resulting in nearly a thousand wrongful convictions and years in prison for innocent men. The district attorney who prosecuted the cases is also implicated.

Documents given to the Alabama Justice Project and shared with The Henry County Report show internal complaints that allege officers were carrying drugs with the intent to plant them on suspects. The accusations are appalling. One complaint from 1999 claimed that three different officers saw one officer with a bag of marijuana and heard comments implying that he intended to plant it on someone. Another allegation in the same complaint says the officer “recovered cocaine” that his partner did not believe to belong to the suspect being arrested.

All of the cases involving potentially planted drugs and weapons were prosecuted by the district attorney, Doug Valeska, without informing the defendants or their lawyers of the allegations. Valeska, together with Police Chief John White, is also accused of helping to quash the internal investigations. A November 1999 letter from White to the city manager denied flatly that any allegations about planting drugs had even been made.
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Many of the men involved have been promoted or otherwise advanced in their careers. One accused officer, Michael Magrino, who may have been involved in more than 50 cases involving questionable evidence, is now working for the state Indigent Defense Fund. Many of the men falsely accused, however, are still in prison.

The officers were also reportedly all members of an unidentified neo-Confederate group that the Southern Poverty Law Center called “racial extremists.” A photo published by The Henry County Report shows 10 of the accused officers posing with a Confederate battle flag.

The only heartening thing about the story is the identity of the whistle-blowers. Throughout the decades of corruption and racism, a group of officers tried repeatedly to bring the allegations to the attention of those who would investigate them. The documents published include not only the multiple complaints by fellow officers, but also an anonymous letter submitted to the Dothan City Commissioner urging him to investigate the accusations. At a time when many police departments are accused of protecting abusers within their ranks at the cost of public security, it is reassuring to see some officers take their oath to "protect and serve" seriously.

The originals of the documents have reportedly been put in the care of a Canadian organization for security, and copies are being shared with the individuals whose convictions were based on faulty evidence and their lawyers. Two officers who have lawsuits pending against the Dothan Police Department for racial discrimination will also be given access to the documents.
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