Brookside police patrolled social media, threatening city critics

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Michelle Jones filed a formal complaint with the Alabama Attorney General’s office three years ago, arguing that Brookside police arrested her outside of their jurisdiction, issued a false citation and threatened her with new charges after criticizing them on Facebook.

She thought the complaint was long forgotten or shelved.

But on Wednesday morning, she said, she received a call from the Alabama attorney general’s investigator who had worked on the case after her complaint was filed in 2019,

“He informed me my case was never closed,” said Jones, who lives in Forestdale near Birmingham.

In 2020, she had explained her case to the AG’s office thus: “The person threatened me with arrest if I did not remove my Facebook photos and messages from their police officers, stop emailing politicians locals, as well as others, and show them (Brookside Police) that I understand law enforcement practices.

Jones isn’t the only one complaining about Brookside. Stories of people arrested in the happy ticket town continue to roll in like an avalanche, since AL.com last week published the story of how the small town turned to aggressive ticketing to build a hot-air balloon police force that came to provide half of the city’s revenue. .

Police Chief Mike Jones has since resigned, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth has called for an audit of the city and Brookside police force, and lawmakers from all parties have called for bills to help limit for-profit small-town police departments on Alabama’s highways.

The stories reported to AL.com detail the harassment and bullying. They tell, with consistency, of tickets and falsified arrests, of reprisals from a police department and of a chief who defied those who interrogated him as he sought to build an empire on the backs of drivers.

Michelle Jones of Forestdale fought the Brookside Police Department for three years.

Stephanie Franklin, a Jefferson County employee, told AL.com she was a passenger in a car stopped last year for an expired tag. She said she tried to record the interaction after three officers in two vehicles stopped her car, but an officer with a “valknot” symbol – a Norse sign sometimes appropriated by white supremacists – on a ring and one of his gun clips confiscated his phone. .

“The officer said, ‘We had people arresting and recording us,'” she said, “as if that explained his actions.”

Franklin said she believed the only reason she hadn’t been arrested was because she worked for Jefferson County. Others weren’t so lucky.

Another woman, Emily Sierra, emailed AL.com to say she was arrested in Brookside three years ago for a single flash of her lights to warn oncoming traffic of a radar.

“There were two cars and an SUV surrounding my car and the police were everywhere,” she wrote. “They gave me a ticket for running a stop sign. I clearly didn’t run the stop sign as I had just seen them sitting on top of the I-22 overpass. I’ve never had any trouble, I’ve only had one speeding ticket. They were shining these flashlights in my car and it was daylight. I was scared to death even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Neither the police nor the city have responded to questions since the original story aired.

For Michelle Jones, it’s been a dedicated three-year fight. Brookside police gave him a ticket in May 2019 for running a stop sign at Roberta Road and Cherry Avenue across I-22 from Brookside. She insists – like many others arrested by Brookside police – that she did not carry out the stop sign at all. Jones says she was polite to the officer, but was convinced the ticket was baseless and given outside the jurisdiction of Brookside Police.

She began to challenge him. But not in the courtroom. She paid for the $160 ticket and began pleading her case through emails to officials, complaints, a TV interview and elsewhere. She complained directly to Brookside Police Chief Mike Jones.

In an email sent to him on May 29, 2019, Mike Jones defended the stoppage and possible ticket outside of Brookside.

“A sworn peace officer in the State of Alabama can enforce the law anywhere in the State of Alabama,” he wrote in an email. “They are sworn law enforcement officers certified by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards Training Commission (sic). Arrest powers are not limited to city limits or jurisdictional boundaries, except in the state of Alabama.

The real problem for Michelle Jones started when she started posting on her Facebook page when she saw Brookside police arresting people in places she thought were off limits.

“Police Trap,” she posted in June 2019. “Brookside Police Department of Brookside, AL spotted in Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department district at Roberta Road and Cherry Avenue.”

And in July, “the Brookside Police Department of Brookside, AL, operating outside of its city limits. It’s on the corner of Roberta Road and Mulberry Road, which is far from their city limits.

What happened next shocked her.

On July 10, 2019, 16 days after paying for her ticket, her phone rang. On the other end of the line was a caller identified as coming from Brookside Town Hall, she said. The appellant identified himself as “det. Johnson”, although it is not clear if Brookside had a Detective Johnson.

He told her she was a wanted woman.

She made that clear in her complaint to the AG’s office — and in memos to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, county commissioners and others.

“Detective Johnson called me and asked me to come to the Brookside Police Department to talk to them. After I told him I wouldn’t, he reported they had two warrants for his arrest. against me. He said I made threats, incited a riot, and slandered the Brookside Police Department in my Facebook posts. He said his police chief was crazy.

An GA investigator responded to her, and she repeated it in 2020.

The AG’s office this week neither confirmed nor denied to AL.com that there is a case involving Brookside.

In his call to Jones this week, the investigator said “he couldn’t tell me anything because of the ongoing investigation,” Jones said.

In Brookside, complaints about retaliation have come up time and time again, such as in the case of Reverend Vincent Witt and his sister, Tareya, who said the small police department fabricated charges against them and listed them as fugitives. because Witt had complained about an officer’s racist behavior. remark.

Even allegations of retaliation for social media posts are not unusual at Brookside.

Alabama Senate candidate Lisa Ward said ex-Chief Jones tried to bully her in a social media post after she shared the AL.com story on Facebook.

And a Brookside man told AL.com that city police stopped him with blue lights and told him there would be consequences if he posted more about the police on Facebook.

The man is still afraid of reprisals and has requested anonymity. He said police accused him of putting up a stop sign “which I never ran” and complained about it on Facebook. Two or three days later, the Brookside police arrested him again.

Not for speeding, or running a stop sign, or any violation. But for that :

The officer said ”the chief is pretty upset about this message you put on Facebook,” the Brookside man told AL.com. The officer went on to say “‘no more reaction like that to his police department and it will be much worse than a ticket’.”

“I just watched it,” the man said. “I was just looking at it like that, so what is this stoppage about?”

“I was in shock,” he told AL.com.

The accounts of the drivers – dozens of them – are surprisingly similar. They often say they had no idea why they were stopped while passing near Brookside on Interstate 22. Time and time again they say they were stopped by multiple officers in multiple vehicles for minor charges such as an expired tag or being tracked too closely, that they were being searched, towed and forced to pay hefty fines for offenses many say they did not commit.

Michelle Jones said she had friends, acquaintances and family members arrested at Brookside. She observed and documented stops there.

“What I’ve noticed is that the pattern among us is this: if you’re alone in the car, you’ll get a ticket,” she said. “If you have a witness with you, they will give you a warning.”

She didn’t think that was fair.

“I felt that basically it was a way for them to make money to finance their city on the backs of citizens from other regions. And that’s why I decided to fight.

Read more stories from our Banking on Crime series:


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