Thursday, October 24, 2019

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of my "arrest for blogging" in Alabama, as GOP herd stormed secure Capitol room in a similar "F--k you" to the rule of law

My mugshot after Alabama cops beat me up in my own
home and hauled me for a five-month stay in jail -- all
for practicing investigative journalism.

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of my "arrest for blogging" in Shelby County, Alabama. It fell on the same day that U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) led more than 30 Republicans to storm a secure impeachment hearing room in the Capitol basement.

How is that for irony? The over-arching theme of this blog, since it began in June 2007, is that respect for the rule of law -- and 14th Amendment protections, such as due process and equal protection -- has been deteriorating for at least two decades, probably much longer. We have reported on dozens of examples where courts -- both state and federal, in multiple jurisdictions -- have issued rulings that bare little resemblance to the relevant facts or law. Usually, it's the "little guy" who winds up holding the short end of the stick, with elites and large institutions (banks, mortgage companies, universities, etc.) happily reaping the benefits of courts that are rigged.

What happened to me on the evening of Oct. 23, 2013? A swarm of Alabama deputies, led by officer Chris Blevins, entered our property and barged into our basement garage just as I had pulled our car into the garage and was attempting to close the door. The garage was built under the main portion of our house -- a common design in Alabama -- so the deputies actually broke into our home, our living quarters. Without showing a warrant, stating he had a warrant, or stating why he and his colleagues were on our property, Blevins proceeded to beat me up, shoving me three times to a concrete floor and dousing me with pepper spray. Dash-cam footage shows that Blevins did all of this without telling me why he was there or what I had supposedly done wrong. The same footage captures deputy Jason Valenti threatening to break my arms after I had been dragged out of my own home and placed on the driveway.

I spent five months in jail, all because I dared to write about judicial and political corruption -- most of it involving Republicans -- in Alabama. The story received national and international news coverage, much to the consternation of J. Claud Neilson, the judge who was brought out of retirement to ramrod the case at the direction of the Alabama Supreme Court.

House Republicans storm a secure deposition room
in the U.S. Capitol
What was the impetus for all of this? It did not involve even an allegation that I had committed a crime. I had reported on a relationship involving attorney and GOP operative Rob Riley (son of former Gov. Bob Riley) and a lobbyist named Liberty Duke. Rob Riley and Duke filed a defamation lawsuit against me and my wife, Carol -- even though Carol, at that point, had nothing to do with the blog and had never seen what you might call the "control center," where the blog is written, edited, organized, and published, with ties to my email account, not hers. Carol and I have never known when the lawsuit was filed because the plaintiffs had the court file immediately sealed. To this day, we've never seen it, even though we were the ones being sued.

Was the arrest really about just Riley and Duke? Probably not. It came roughly five weeks after I broke a story about U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor (a Bush 2 nominee and ally of the Rileys and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions [R-AL]) and his ties to gay pornography at a Web site called It came one day after our report on an apparent sweetheart deal for GOP operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison -- one-time campaign manager and mistress for former Alabama attorney general and U.S. Sen. Luther Strange -- on a house in the fashionable Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook.

How was the rule of law trampled in my arrest and incarceration? Here are just a few ways:

(1) The granting of a temporary restraining order (TRO) or preliminary injunction -- Riley and Duke were granted both -- is an unlawful "prior restraint" in a case of alleged defamation -- In essence, Riley and Duke sought to arrest Carol and me for allegedly violating the TRO and preliminary injunction and failing to appear at a court hearing on the matter. But one, we never were timely summoned to appear in court; actually, a summons was issued, but that was more than two weeks after the hearing in question had been held, according to a lawyer's review of the file. Two, prior restraints have been unlawful under First Amendment law that dates back roughly 230 years. The U.S. Supreme Court issued the seminal ruling on the issue in 1931 -- Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697 (1931). As a matter of law, my reporting on Riley and Duke never has been found to be defamatory.

(2) It is unlawful for police to make "a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home to make a routine felony arrest" -- The U.S. Supreme Court spelled out this principle in Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980). My arrest was not for an alleged crime, much less a felony, and Blevins' entry certainly was not consensual. I can be heard on the dash-cam video telling him to get out of our house.

(3) Use of pepper spray in an unlawful arrest amounts to excessive force -- Federal courts have held "if a stop or arrest is illegal, then there is no basis for any threat or any use of force, and an excessive force claim would always arise but only collaterally from the illegal stop or arrest claim." Jackson v. Sauls, 206 F.3d, 1156 (11th Cir., 2000). Federal courts also have held "Courts have consistently concluded that using pepper spray is excessive force in cases where the crime is a minor infraction, the arrestee surrenders, is secured, and is not acting violently, and there is no threat to the officers or anyone else." Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340 (11th Cir., 2002). In my case, there was no alleged crime at all, not even a minor infraction, so Blevins' use of pepper spray was excessive force.

(4) Under Alabama state law, an officer must state his purpose for being on private property -- From Code of Alabama 15-10-2: "An officer may execute a warrant of arrest on any day and at any time; but in doing so, he must inform the defendant of his authority and, if required, must show the warrant." The same principle is found in Alabama case law, at Livingston v. Browder, 285 So.2d 983 (AL Civ. App., 1973): "Importantly, in most circumstances, a person must make known his purpose and demand admittance before breaking into and entering the house of another to make an arrest. 5 Am.Jur.2d Arrest § 93. Mr. Justice Bouldin, in Gray v. Williams, 230 927*927 Ala. 14, 18, 160 So. 715, 718, spoke to this point when he stated: "In entering the dwelling of a third person, especially at night, the officer is under a duty to apprise the head of the family of his mission and authority. No particular words are necessary, but, coming in the name of the law, he should make known such fact."

Do House Republicans, under the "leadership" of Matt Gaetz, show respect for the rule of law? Not in the least, as The Washington Post's Aaron Blake points out, in a broad sense, with a piece titled "A revealing 24 hours for the GOP and the rule of law." For particulars, consider this from Vox:

“House rules and committee rules allow the Intel committee to close hearings and other meetings behind closed doors,” said George Washington University political science professor Sarah Binder. “The House — and its committees — adopt their rules by majority vote at the start of each Congress.”

As agreed upon, House rules limit the members who are able to participate in the impeachment inquiry’s closed-door interviews. Because these interviews are classified as “depositions,” only the members and staff of the relevant committees are able to attend them.

“These are regulations for the conduct of depositions that extend beyond the impeachment inquiry and were established before the impeachment inquiry began,” Brookings Institute’s Molly Reynolds told Vox. . . .

In addition to Republicans’ breach of House deposition rules, members who brought their cellphones into the secure space were violating the protocol on SCIFs, which individuals are not able to enter with such devices. Ultimately, as Politico reports, the House sergeant at arms — a law enforcement official based in the Capitol — arrived at the SCIF and conducted a sweep for surveillance devices because of this breach.

Six years ago, Alabama deputies broke into our home, showing utter disregard for the rule of law, acting as if rules do not apply to them. GOP members of the House of Representatives showed much the same mindset yesterday.

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