Thursday, December 12, 2019

In a stunning moment of candor, Shelby County officer Howard Brogdon admits the written law and the way the law is enforced can be two entirely different things

Mike McGarity

"Let me be candid, Mr. Shuler. There is a way the law is written and a way the law is enforced."

 -- Lt. Howard Brogdon, Shelby County (AL) Sheriff's Department

Howard Brogdon probably did not mean to be quite as bluntly honest as the quote above sounds, in discussing the realities of the legal system in Shelby County, Alabama. When I asked him about the felony assault our criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity, committed against me, Brogdon essentially said (three times) that the written law doesn't mean squat in his jurisdiction -- that cops, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges enforce the law however they want to, even if it's wildly contrary to the written law.

Brogdon's statement absolutely squares with my experience in Shelby County. But I never expected to hear a member of the sheriff's department admit the system operates in brazenly unlawful ways. Let's examine portions of my conversation with Lt. Brogdon. (A video, with the full conversation, is embedded at the end of this post.):

Howard Brogdon (HB): With the facts presented to the magistrate, it's their decision, not ours. If the magistrate turned you down for a felony, the only thing I could suggest would be for you to request the DA take it to the grand jury. But they very rarely take a misdemeanor to the grand jury.

Roger Shuler (RS): Deputy Stockman took the report, and he said it was his decision to make it third degree, and everybody up the line just keeps it at third degree.

I don't want to sign a misdemeanor complaint when it's not third degree. The only element of that, which involves use of a dangerous instrument, involves criminal negligence, and [McGarity] was not negligent. It's either second or first. It's not like he was swinging the sign and just happened to hit me.

HB: Let me be candid, Mr. Shuler. There is a way the law is written and a way the law is enforced. . . . The DA gets these rulings from the appellate courts and reduces them down to the magistrate level. Appellate courts have ruled on the code as it's written, and now it's practiced that way.

Brogdon deserves high marks for honesty. I never dreamed I would hear someone in the Shelby County "justice" system speak so frankly about how the "law" really is practiced in what can only be described as a judicial hellhole:

LB: I'm telling you the written word is not the holding case here. . . .

You're talking to the wrong people. Law enforcement doesn't handle the case law. The way to proceed is request it to be put on the grand jury. If they deny you, you're done. In our opinion, it was a misdemeanor, and to the magistrate, their opinion was the same.

There are all kinds of different renditions of the law the way its written. It comes down to the way it's worked in the jurisdiction where you live. We put our opinion on a report, and if the magistrate doesn't change it, it's up to the DA to change it. Talking case law with me isn't going to help you.

That's two more times -- for a total of three -- where Brogdon admits the written law means little or nothing in Shelby County Courthouses. It's possible he feels helpless to straighten out a system he knows is crooked. Let's consider some of the profound stuff an Alabama law-enforcement officer has admitted in a stunningly candid moment:

(1) The written law means nothing in many cases -- criminal and civil -- suggesting it's possible for a case to be completed without anyone ever bothering to read the actual law;

(2) Determinations about criminal cases often are made based on opinion -- a kind of "folk lore" that develops within a jurisdiction -- and is unlikely to change;

(3) The patrol cop, who might have struggled to complete a high school diploma, makes determinations on an incident report about how an offense is classified -- and it's unlikely that will change as the case moves to the level of magistrate, district attorney, and judge.

(4) Patrol cops make such determinations, even though it's not their business to deal with case law, and they often don't know how statutes or case law actually read.

My conversation with Lt. Brogdon ended with this sobering thought:

RS: The fellow who assaulted me has an extensive criminal record already. As a citizen, I'm starting to think, "Am I going to have to wind up with a hole in my chest, bleeding and dead basically, before anyone takes this seriously?"

(To be continued)

(Previously in the series)

* Dep. Lee Stockman starts the runaround on Alabama assault law -- 11/18/25

* Sgt. Jayme Moore keeps the runaround wheels spinning -- 11/26/19

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