The latest example came with news that Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. is the new commander of Riley's anti-gambling task force. One of Tyson's first steps was to hint that VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor might have committed obstruction of justice by hiring a private investigator to follow Riley's previous anti-gambling czar, David Barber. The PI, of course, spotted Barber winning a jackpot at a Mississippi casino, leading to the czar's ignominious resignation.
We have reports today that security is being beefed up for Tyson, Barber, and others connected to Riley's anti-gambling crusade. Apparently, Alabamians are supposed to believe that pro-gambling forces are such bogeymen that they are putting officials' lives at risk. We also have a report that Tyson is a colossal hypocrite, one who previously has received campaign support from gambling interests.
Why isn't the Alabama press asking some obvious questions about all of this?
First, consider what we know about obstruction of justice. Our research indicates that, in the vast majority of cases, it is a federal matter. The general subject is covered under Title 18, Chapter 73 of the U.S. Code.
One expert provides an excellent overview of a fairly complex area of federal criminal law:
Obstruction of justice is the frustration of governmental purposes by violence, corruption, destruction of evidence, or deceit. It is a federal crime. In fact, it is several crimes. Obstruction prosecutions regularly involve charges under several statutory provisions. Federal obstruction of justice laws are legion; too many for even passing reference to all of them in a single report.
The general obstruction of justice provisions are six: 18 U.S.C. 1512 (tampering with federal witnesses), 1513 (retaliating against federal witnesses), 1503 (obstruction of pending federal court proceedings), 1505 (obstruction of pending Congressional or federal administrative proceedings), 371 (conspiracy), and contempt. In addition to these, there are a host of other statutes that penalize obstruction by violence, corruption, destruction of evidence, or deceit.
Obstruction of justice, in a general sense, does exist under Alabama law. But references to it are sprinkled in a "hodge podge" fashion through parts of the Code of Alabama, and none of the statues appear to remotely apply to the McGregor matter.
Code of Alabama 13A-8-194 deals with obstruction of justice by use of false identity. That appears to have nothing to do with the McGregor issue. Code of Alabama 13A-10-2 deals with obstruction of governmental operations, but it focuses on cases where someone tries to prevent a public official from performing a government function. Did McGregor or his PI do that? We see no sign of it.
Under Alabama law, obstruction of justice seems to be an umbrella term for a number of offenses under Chapter 10 of the criminal code. These include offenses such as perjury, bribing a witness, intimidating a juror, impersonating a peace officer, etc. Again, we have no indication that McGregor or his surrogates engaged in any of these activities.
The press could have cleared things up greatly by asking a few simple questions of Mr. Tyson. What would have happened? Here is how we think it might have gone down:
Reporter: What specifically did Milton McGregor do that would constitute a crime under Alabama law?
Tyson: "Ah . . . ummm . . . (shuffle of feet)
Reporter: What Alabama statutes would apply in the McGregor case?
Tyson: Well . . . ahhh . . (shuffle, shuffle)
Reporter: Isn't obstruction of justice usually a federal matter?
Tyson: Yes . . . well . . . ummm . . . (tap dancing commences)
Reporter: If it's usually a federal matter, what authority would you--as Mobile County DA--have over this case?
Tyson: Gosh . . . it's hard . . . to say . . . (breaks into soft-shoe routine)
Reporter: And oh, by the way, have you ever accepted campaign funds from pro-gambling interests?
Tyson (to Riley, standing nearby): Governor, may I be excused . . . my tummy hurts.
Unbelievably, Tyson is sticking to his guns in today's news reports--and still no one is asking him any questions. Writes The Birmingham News:
Tyson, reached at his office in Mobile, said he would not comment on the specific nature of the threats or on security issues. But Tyson did reiterate a statement he made Monday after Riley appointed him to succeed Barber.
"I said Monday that when (gambling magnate) Milton McGregor hired a private detective to follow Mr. Barber it came close to an obstruction of justice in my view. The same applies in this situation.
"Anyone found to have made threats against law enforcement officials in an attempt to somehow stop them from carrying out their duties are engaging in an obstruction of justice at a minimum, and I intend to immediately look into the matter," Tyson said.
Maybe I've watched too many Barnaby Jones episodes, but it's my understanding that a private investigator tries not to be detected by the subject of his surveillance. After all, that's why they call him a PRIVATE investigator.
But we're supposed to believe that Milton McGregor's PRIVATE investigators are walking right up to task force members and threatening them? Doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose of being a PRIVATE investigator?
I just went out into our backyard to ask one of our stumps about this situation:
"Hey Stumpy," I said, "do you really think a private investigator would blow his cover by threatening the person he is tailing?"
"Gee, I don't know," Stumpy said. "I'm a stump and all, but that seems pretty hard to believe."
"Why do you think Bob Riley expects the people of Alabama to believe it?"
"Good grief, you want me to explain the goofy stuff that goes on this state? Can't you see I'm just a stump? If you've got hard questions like that, you'll have to ask Chucky the Ground Squirrel. I saw him over there digging a new hole just a little while ago."
Chucky apparently had business to tend to underground, so I came back in the house, shrugging my shoulders. My stump was stumped--and so was I.