It's sad that it takes the gruesome murders of five men for the mainstream media to shine a small spotlight on the corruption that permeates Republican-run Shelby County, Alabama.
But that was the case this week as John Archibald, a columnist for The Birmingham News, took off his paper's red-colored glasses long enough to scorch Shelby County officials for their handling of a case in which five Hispanic men were found in a suburban Birmingham apartment, bound with their throats cut execution style.
Four men were arrested and charged with capital murder on Tuesday, nearly a week after the bodies had been discovered. News reports indicated that drug trafficking might have been a factor in the crime.
As one of Archibald's regular readers, I sense that he is more progressive and forward-thinking than the people he reports to at The News. One can only wonder what kind of revelatory reporting Archibald could produce if he was unleashed.
But even The News' right-leaning honchos could not hold back Archibald in the aftermath of the murders. The columnist laid it on the line about the mindset that exists in what is generally considered Alabama's wealthiest, fastest growing, and most Republican county.
Archibald blasted Sheriff Chris Curry for the secretive, unprofessional way he handled the murder story. Wrote Archibald:
"Shelby County did what Shelby County always does. It sat on the facts, telling the world it knew best. . . . Nobody won in the vacuum behind Shelby County's Iron Curtain."
This all hit close to home for my wife and me because we happen to be among the small, but growing, number of Democrats and progressives who live in Shelby County. Our legal nightmare, which is at the heart of this blog, originated in Shelby County. And these murders took place about four miles from our house.
Regular readers might remember Sheriff Chris Curry. He played a starring role in the unlawful auction of our house a few weeks back.
For those not familiar with Alabama's largest metro area, Shelby County sits due south of Jefferson County, home to Birmingham. The apartment complex where the murders took place is in the Inverness area, about two miles east of the Cahaba River, which divides the two counties on Highway 280.
A number of high-end neighborhoods dot the north Shelby landscape, earning the county its "wealthiest in Alabama" status. Michael Jordan lived in the north Shelby Greystone development while he played baseball for the Birmingham Barons a few summers back.
But Shelby County is not all McMansions and big bucks. A whole bunch of folks, like my wife and me, are middle class (at best), and significant slices of the population are at or near the poverty level.
Most of the county's population is to the north, nearest to Birmingham, but government is run in a little hellhole called Columbiana, way to the south. Having the county seat in an "out of the way" location helps create what Archibald calls the "Iron Curtain" of Shelby County.
My theory is that Shelby County officials don't feel they are accountable to anyone. They are almost all Republican, and once in office, they are unlikely to ever be seriously challenged. And the press is either too disengaged, or too far removed, to pay much attention to governmental misdeeds.
One gets the feeling that Archibald knows Shelby County government resides in a corrupt backwater, and the murders give him a forum to let his readers in on a poorly kept secret. Shelby County, Archibald writes, makes Birmingham and Jefferson County "look like a freedom-of-the-facts" Valhalla.
But Archibald doesn't stop there:
Shelby is no longer Hazzard County, with its Duke boys and smoke-filled rooms. It's all grown up now, and needs to act it. Not just when five men are killed, but every day.
This is the same county, and the same sheriff who schemes to meet individually with county commissioners to talk about something as public as a budget. Curry wants to avoid prying eyes, and that little thing called the law.
Curry's boys don't just act like buffoons when it comes to handling quintuple murders. They act that way on a regular basis. Just check out this scene from the day our house was "auctioned" on the courthouse steps by one of Curry's boys, Bubba Caudill:
Showdown in Shelby County
Curry is hardly the only Shelby County official who wants to avoid prying eyes. The Shelby County Courthouse is filled with those types, led by presiding judge J. Michael Joiner. Regular readers will remember Joiner as a key player in our Legal Schnauzer story. The judge has repeatedly gotten away with federal crimes (honest-services mail fraud) because Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Alice Martin is not about to go after a member of the "home team."
In a case of sickening irony, it appears that Joiner will be handling the quintuple-murder case. That's truly a case of a criminal overseeing criminals. How bad is Joiner? Here is one of many posts I've written about "His Corruptness:"
Republican Hypocrisy Up Close
His editors might never let him write the real story of Shelby County corruption, but John Archibald apparently knows what's going on. Here's what he says about the Shelby County approach to government:
It's a slap in the face to all who respect the law and admire the reason it exists.