The woman who revealed her extramarital affair with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill -- causing him to cancel plans to run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2022 -- has been arrested on domestic-violence charges. This marks the second time in roughly two years that an individual who has spoken publicly about the sordid secrets of a prominent Republican has wound up facing criminal charges. In both cases, the charges stem from alleged domestic incidents involving children.
The most recent case involves Cesaire McPherson, whose revelations about her role as Merrill's mistress -- which included statements about his fondness for butt plugs during sex -- put an end to Merrill's U.S. Senate hopes, at least for now. The earlier case involved Spencer Collier, former chief of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), who helped reveal then-Gov. Robert Bentley's extramarital activities with senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason. That led to Bentley's resignation from office as part of a plea deal related to criminal charges involving public corruption.
Were the charges against Collier legitimate, along with the current charges against McPherson? Is it coincidence that Collier and Bentley faced criminal charges not long after speaking out about Bentley and Merrill? Or are powerful GOP politicians using law enforcement to target those against whom they seek to retaliate?
Those are disturbing questions to ponder, but given Alabama's toxic political environment, it's possible McPherson and Collier were targeted -- with law enforcement used for abusive, and likely unlawful, reasons. Let's examine the McPherson case first, via a report at al.com:
Cesaire McPherson, the 44-year-old former mistress of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, was arrested and charged with two counts of domestic violence in Autauga County, according to court filings.
In April, McPherson went public with audio recordings of her and Merrill while revealing an affair with Alabama’s secretary of state between November 2017 and November 2020.
Merrill initially denied an affair but later admitted to an “inappropriate relationship” with McPherson after being confronted by AL.com with McPherson’s recordings. The revelation led Merrill to rule out a Senate campaign in 2022.
McPherson was arrested Thursday on two counts of third-degree domestic violence, according to Autauga County Jail and court records.
She was released from the county jail Friday afternoon after posting $12,000 bond, records showed.
What are these charges all about? To my nostrils, they emit a smell of flimsiness, maybe even political chicanery:
Warrants filed in her case allege that McPherson chased her daughter throughout her home with scissors “which created a substantial risk for serious injury.”
A second warrant accuses McPherson of beating an unnamed female “with her hands, fist and a belt.”
Both warrants stem from an alleged May 1 incident in Autauga County.
It’s unclear whether the victims described in both warrants were the same person.
After reading that, we could not help but think back to the Spencer Collier case. From a Legal Schnauzer post dated 6/17/19:
Spencer Collier, former chief of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), was arrested last Friday in Baldwin County on a charge of filing a false report with law-enforcement authorities. Coming just two days after Collier announced a settlement in his wrongful-termination/defamation lawsuit against former Governor Robert Bentley, the arrest emits all kinds of noxious fumes.
Collier stated in a lawsuit deposition that, while working for Bentley, he learned the governor had a fondness for misusing law-enforcement resources to target perceived enemies. . . . Does that help explain Collier's arrest on charges that would have to improve to be flimsy? Our guess is yes.
Collier, once a personal friend and political ally of Bentley's, likely landed on the enemies list after helping reveal Bentley's extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason and challenging his termination as unlawful. The story of Bentley's affair with Mason, which we broke here at Legal Schnauzer, led to Bentley's resignation in April 2017 after he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and agreed never to hold public office again. The Mason affair, which ended Bentley's marriage of 50 years, helped earn him such nicknames as "Luv Guv" and "Horndog Governor." Mason became known as "Home Wrecky Becky."
Why did Collier's arrest sound dubious to our ears?
The first sign of fishiness surrounding Collier's arrest involves the offense with which he was charged. Based on published reports, he apparently was charged under Code of Alabama 13A-10-9 (False Report to Law Enforcement Authorities), which states:
A person commits the crime of false reporting to law enforcement authorities if he knowingly makes a false report or causes the transmission of a false report to law enforcement authorities of a crime or relating to a crime. . .
The key word in the law is "knowingly." That word, by law, goes to a culpable mental state and is described at Sec. 13A-2-2 as follows:
(2) KNOWINGLY. A person acts knowingly with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of that nature or that the circumstance exists.
That raised a couple of obvious questions:
Was Collier aware his alleged actions constituted a violation of law?
Let's look at how relevant events have been described in the press. From al.com:
Spencer Collier, the state’s former top cop, was arrested in south Alabama amid accusations he filed a false report.
Collier was booked and quickly released from Daphne City Jail, according to local law enforcement. A spokesperson from the Daphne Police Department said Collier’s charge related to a report he made regarding fraudulent credit card use while he was staying in a local hotel Thursday evening.
He turned himself in to the Daphne City Jail at around 1:30 p.m., according to Daphne PD Sgt. Jason Vannoy, who characterized the incident as “domestic.”
How was the incident domestic? Here is more from al.com:
Collier addressed the arrest and his family situation in a statement.
“My adult son, who is a recovering addict and multiple felon, used my bank card without my permission,” said Collier in a message to AL.com. “I filed a police report, being this is the second time in a year that he has done this. I was unaware that my wife (we are currently estranged) gave him permission. He pressed charges because I listed him as the suspect.”
He added: “I have no doubt that I will be exonerated - but the entire episode is embarrassing. I am so sorry for any embarrassment that this has caused the City of Selma. I wish to apologize to the Daphne Police Department and also express my gratitude for their professionalism throughout the entire incident.”
Having been told about Collier’s defense of what happened, Sgt Vannoy of the Daphne PD said that fundamental information given by Collier to an investigating officer was deemed to be false.
Collier wound up pleading guilty, perhaps to put the matter behind him or to avoid the expense of a trial, but press reports indicate he did not act knowingly. So, how did he wind up facing criminal charges that clearly were not in line with the facts or applicable statute?
Let's consider some questions this press account raises:
1. Collier plainly states that he was unaware his estranged wife had given his son permission to use the credit card. What does this say about Collier's "culpable mental state"? It suggests he didn't have one.
2. Was the credit card in the name of both Collier and his estranged wife? If his wife's name was not on the card, did she have grounds to give the son permission to use it? At this point, we lack information about the nature of the card.
3. Sgt. Vannoy, of the Daphne PD, said the "fundamental information given by Collier to an investigating officer was deemed to be false." But we know from the language in the statute that is not the key element of the offense. The accused must act "knowingly," and the available evidence indicates Collier did not know his statement to the investigating officer was false.
Many questions swirl around Collier's arrest, but two facts appear to be clear:
* Collier did not knowingly violate the false reporting law, and he never should have been arrested;
* That the arrest came two days after Collier announced a settlement in his lawsuit against Bentley -- and Collier's estranged wife sought a protection order one day after the lawsuit announcement -- suggests someone was unnerved about the settlement. Who might that be?
First, the lawsuit settlement surprised many observers, including this one. Taxpayers were funding Bentley's defense, so he appeared to have little or no incentive to settle. That Bentley did settle suggests discovery in the lawsuit might have produced potentially damaging information about Bentley, Mason, and their associates. Did Collier attorney Kenneth Mendelsohn catch someone on Team Bentley in a perjury trap, with criminal implications? If such information involved donors to ACEGOV, also known as the "Girlfriend Fund," it could be making some of the state's powerful and moneyed elites nervous.
As we reported last August, Collier filed a motion seeking information about donors to ACEGOV. Did that motion yield information that led to a lawsuit settlement and Collier's unlawful arrest?
We suggest that federal and state agencies need to launch a criminal investigation based on that question.
Now, an investigation might need to examine how Cesaire McPherson came to face criminal charges, less than four months after she outed John Merrill.