|English Village in Mountain Brook
The Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook frequently is cited as one of the 10 wealthiest communities in America. But two recent events, one well publicized and the other not covered at all, lead us to suspect something nasty is going on in the city's police department.
Mountain Brook is known in these parts as "The Tiny Kingdom." Folks who don't live in the kingdom, and might be a tad bit jealous, are fond of telling "Brookie" jokes. A sample: How many Brookies does it take to change a flat tire? Four--one to call daddy and three to mix drinks.
That one never fails to get a laugh at middle-class social gatherings in the Birmingham area. But there is nothing funny about recent actions of the Mountain Brook PD.
The first involves the death of a jogger who was struck and killed by an off-duty Mountain Brook police officer. The other involves a woman who seems to be the target of a curious harassment campaign by Mountain Brook officers. What is this woman's "crime"? Through no fault of her own, she seems to have gotten cross ways with one of Birmingham's elite law firms--and one of the firm's high-profile clients.
Does the Mountain Brook PD have the time, and the inclination, to intentionally harass a woman on behalf of a powerful law firm? How can this woman, who spends much of her time taking her two teen-aged daughters to school, band practice, ballet lessons, etc., incur the wrath of Birmingham's suburban elites?
We will address those questions in a moment. But first, let's consider the sad story of Sundeep Caplash, 38, who was struck and killed while jogging in Mountain Brook on the morning of January 31. An off-duty Mountain Brook police officer, who has yet to be named, was driving the vehicle that struck Caplash.
Law enforcement officers announced on Tuesday that Caplash was at fault in the death. Who handled the investigation? The Mountain Brook PD itself, with assistance from the Alabama State Troopers. Reports The Birmingham News:
Cpl. Steve Smith of the Alabama State Troopers, who assisted Mountain Brook police with the investigation, said Caplash was at fault for running with traffic rather than against, not wearing reflective clothing, and running in the street when a sidewalk was available.
It does sound like Caplash contributed to the incident. But was he the only one at fault? Consider this information from an article about the incident in the print edition of The Birmingham News on February 1, 2011. (I have not been able to find this version of the story in an online search or in the archives at al.com.)
(Caplash) and one of his training partners, 42-year-old Jackie Breland, were running eastbound on Montevallo Road just after 6 a.m.
They were near Canterbury Road when a motorist traveling in the same direction, who police haven't publicly identified, struck Caplash from behind.
The impact catapulted Caplash past Breland, who was running in front of him.
"It must have been a pretty hard hit," said Breland's husband, Ben Breland. "It knocked him well past her."
The driver was identified the next day as an unnamed Mountain Brook police officer. And here are a couple of obvious questions:
* How fast was the vehicle moving in order to catapult an adult male well past his running companion?
* Was the officer distracted by something that caused him not to see the joggers?
Speed limits in the area where the accident occurred tend to be very low, in the 20 to 40 mph range. Was the officer speeding? If he was, then Caplash was not totally at fault.
From personal experience, I know what it's like to come upon joggers who are running in the wrong direction, with traffic instead of against it. It can be aggravating because you know someone is putting themselves in danger. But I've found that if you are driving at a safe speed, and paying attention, you aren't likely to hit the jogger. I've not come close to hitting anyone in such circumstances, and I hope it stays that way.
So why was Sundeep Caplash, in spite of mistakes he might have made, hit hard enough to cause fatal injuries?
It appears we aren't the only ones who have questions about the investigative findings. Consider this paragraph in The Birmingham News story:
Caplash's father, Dr. Vijay Caplash, on Monday said he needed to speak with his lawyer before commenting.
That sounds like the Caplash family is not satisfied with what they are learning about the investigation. We suspect those concerns are well grounded.
What about the woman who is being harassed by Mountain Brook police? She will remain unnamed for now, but her problems seem connected to litigation with a client of the Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant. The client, Ted Rollins, is CEO of Campus Crest Communities, which recently issued a $380-million IPO on Wall Street and is the defendant in multiple discrimination lawsuits. Rollins happens to be a member of one of America's wealthiest families, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and other enterprises.
Mountain Brook police repeatedly have stopped the woman in recent months for driving with an expired tag. She recently received notice from Mountain Brook Municipal Court that there was a warrant for her arrest and her driver's license had been suspended.
Why is all of this curious? The woman, during this time, has been driving a vehicle that she is allowed to use but does not own. Who does own it? Paperwork in her possession indicates the vehicle belongs to the Bradley Arant firm, a woman named Holly Rollins (Ted Rollins' wife), or both. When the woman tried to renew the tag at the Jefferson County Courthouse, after being stopped several times, she was told she couldn't do it--only Holly Rollins or someone from Bradley Arant could do it.
When the woman sought assistance from Bradley Arant lawyer Dawn Helms Sharff and the firm's client, Ted Rollins, her requests were ignored. The woman finally received a new tag, roughly five months late. By then she had received citations regarding a tag that she could not renew on her own. And now she has notice about an arrest warrant.
Motor vehicle and traffic laws are covered under Code of Alabama, Title 32. I don't claim to be an expert on this section, but my research has not turned up a provision that holds someone accountable for failure to renew a tag on a vehicle they do not own. In fact, it appears that a person cannot lawfully renew a tag on such a vehicle. So why is a Mountain Brook resident being threatened with arrest over a vehicle that appears to belong to the Bradley Arant law firm--and for which the law firm apparently had responsibility for tag renewal?
Shouldn't the Mountain Brook PD be seeking the arrest of Dawn Helms Sharff, Walter Sears, or some of the other fine attorneys at Bradley Arant?
These questions, plus the curious findings in the death of Sundeep Caplash, make it appear that the Mountain Brook Police Department is an organization with something to hide.
[Photos: city-data.com; al.com]