by Anthony Accurso
An Alabama sheriff was denied immunity for acts taken to extort and silence a whistleblower who exposed her corruption.
In Alabama, sheriffs are allowed to receive as personal income any excess funds “left over” after feeding (or rather, starving) jail inmates. Former Sheriff Greg Bartlett was nicknamed “Corndog” because he was so frugal with inmate food costs.
His replacement in Morgan County, Sheriff Ana Franklin, upped the corruption ante where Ol’ Corndog left off, pocketing $160,000 from the prisoner food account — $150,000 of which she funneled to a used car dealership — well before it was actually “left over.” In other words, Franklin used the food account like her own payday loan provider.
Morgan County Jail Warden Leon Bradley called foul on this misappropriation of funds and was targeted by Franklin for his efforts to expose her. Since Bradley was working with a local blogger, Franklin paid the blogger’s grandson to install an illegal keylogger on his grandmother’s computer. Franklin then used inferences gleamed from the keylogger to obtain a warrant and file charges against Bradley for government records tampering.
Bradley filed a 14-count lawsuit against Franklin and several deputies alleging violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. The sheriff asserted both qualified and absolute immunity derived from state and federal statutes designed to shield law enforcement’s “procedural defects” when officers are merely negligent or sloppy.
The U.S. District Court denied any immunity, and this decision was upheld on review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The Circuit Court said the sheriff’s request for immunity “requires an extraordinarily broad view of absolute immunity that would effectively immunize any conduct when the sheriff flashes his or her badge.” The Court refused to extend immunity where the allegations involved installing an unauthorized keylogger, misleading a judge to secure a search warrant, and raiding Bradley’s home.
In a statement denying any immunity to the defendants, the Eleventh Circuit summed up the situation by saying, “[T]he alleged activities paint a picture of a lengthy conspiracy to defraud the taxpayer, use public funds for personal gain, and punish anyone who threatened to publicize their activities. As the district court noted, the defendants cannot explain how these allegations would fit within the scope of their employment.”
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