Sunday, October 22, 2023

Alabama A&M's firing of Professor Edward Jones features unlawful searches, doctored documents, seizure of personal property, and other irregularities

Alabama A&M President Daniel Wims (left) and former Professor Edward Jones

Part 1-- A Tangled Web of Lies and Deceit

Longtime Alabama attorney Donald Watkins has conducted an investigation into Alabama A&M University's (AAMU) firing of tenured professor Edward Jones. Watkins' initial findings indicate "Alabama A&M's allegation that Dr. Jones stole or misused university property (i.e., a University-issued laptop) is predicated on lies, fraud, and a massive, ongoing coverup by the university into what happened to Dr. Jones, and why. Further, Watkins found that a bungled police search of Jones' personal residence implicated university President Daniel K. Wims in actions that were improper, unlawful, or both. Watkins will release his full findings in an upcoming series of posts at the Web site

Under the headline "Sex, Lies, and a Coverup: The Highly Questionable Firing of Alabama A&M Professor Edward L. Jones," Watkins writes in an article today:

Alabama A&M University President Daniel K. Wims is caught in a web of lies, deceit, and an ongoing coverup involving the highly questionable firing of former tenured professor Edward L. Jones. Wims was the university’s provost in 2015 when he organized, orchestrated, and oversaw the eventual termination of Dr. Jones as a university program director. Today, Wims is the university’s president.

In October 2015, Dr.Wims placed Dr. Jones on administrative leave pending the resolution of unspecified administrative compliance issues.

On October 13, 2015, A&M's Chief Information Officer, accompanied by university police officer Brian Ruble and a locksmith, entered Jones’ on-campus office to seize his computer and change the locks on his office.

Dr. Jones' on-campus office computer never became a pertinent issue in his case.

On January 14, 2016, Dr. Wims sent Dr. Jones an "Intent to Terminate" letter, which failed to provide Jones a pre-termination hearing.

On February 24, 2016, Dr. Jones sued Alabama A&M, its board of trustees, president (Dr. Andrew Hugine), provost (Dr. Daniel Wims), and dean of the College of Education (Dr. Curtis Martin) in federal court (N.D. Ala., Case No. 5:16-CV-00326) to stop the university from firing him. Jones also included two Fourth Amendment claims regarding the unlawful search and seizure of his personal property.

On March 16, 2016, Provost Wims sent Dr. Jones a termination letter that stated, "There is convincing evidence that you have engaged in sexual conduct below minimum standards of professional integrity and misused university computing/electronic assets in gross violation of well-established university policy." Based upon Officer Ruble's search of Dr. Jones' on-campus office, the university also claimed that about 10 items of school property that were assigned to Dr. Jones' program were either stolen or missing. According to Wims, Jones' alleged sexual misconduct and misuse/theft of university property constituted grounds for his termination.

How convincing was the "convincing evidence" against Jones? It was well short of convincing to Watkins, who has almost five decades of legal experience under his belt. Watkins writes:

The so-called “convincing evidence” of sexual misconduct consisted of videos that were purportedly found on an old school laptop recovered at Jones' home after Alabama A&M police officers executed a search warrant. Dr. Jones’ personal cellphone was also seized from his home.

Even though the laptop at Dr. Jones' home had an A&M logo on it, the computer was broken and never contained pornographic images of any kind, according to Dr. Jones.

In February 2017, the federal judge assigned to Jones's case dismissed his search and seizure claims, with prejudice. In a September 9, 2022, Order, the judge wrote that the Court “erred when it dismissed Dr. Jones's Fourth Amendment damages claims with prejudice, and the Court regrets the error.“ Yet, the judge did not correct this error

The judge's denial of Jones’ search and seizure claims is presently an issue on appeal in Jones’ case.

A search of Jones' personal residence seems irregular, to put it mildly. For example, a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, requires probable cause, but it is not clear that standard was met in the Jones case. In fact, the search seems to raise more questions than it answers, Watkins reports:

Alabama A&M opposed Dr. Jones' request for injunctive relief by submitting an affidavit from Officer Brian Ruble. In his affidavit, Ruble stated that he searched the residence of Jones and found a missing university laptop. Ruble said he seized this laptop and secured it during his investigation. Ruble also stated that he personally viewed three pornographic videos that were found on this laptop.

According to Ruble's affidavit, one video depicted Dr. Jones masturbating and showing off his penis on Alabama A&M property. A second video depicted Jones receiving oral sex from a young male on Alabama A&M property. The third video depicted Jones receiving oral sex from another young male on Alabama A&M property," according to Ruble.

We have confirmed that Dr. Wims personally viewed these videos, as well. It is not clear why this video evidence was shared with Wims.

We have also confirmed that the videos referenced by Officer Ruble were never downloaded onto the laptop prior to its seizure at Dr. Jones' home. If any pornographic images were extracted from this laptop, they were downloaded onto the device after it was taken into police custody by Officer Ruble. 

The university has never permitted Jones' legal team to access this laptop for the purpose of forensic testing.

If pornographic material is found to have been placed on the laptop after it was in custody of the police, the university, its police department, and Officer Ruble might have serious problems on their hands. The actions of U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala in the Jones case also are peculiar. Writes Watkins:

The federal judge refused to stop the university from firing Dr. Jones. However, she ordered Alabama A&M to provide Jones a post-termination hearing. The university set a hearing date. Dr. Jones did not attend the hearing because the university would not provide his legal team with access to the laptop and his personal cellphone that were seized by Officer Ruble.

On March 16, Dr. Wims fired Dr. Jones.

After he was fired, Dr. Jones filed a second lawsuit in 2017 in the same federal court (Case No. 5:17-cv-01723). This lawsuit alleged that Alabama A&M discriminated against Dr. Jones based upon his sexual orientation. It also alleged that Jones was fired after years of harassment and only when Jones attempted to bring to light certain administrative issues and concerns involving Dr. Wims.

On March 10, 2021, the judge dismissed now-President Daniel Wims and the other individually named defendants from the case. She also confirmed her earlier dismissal of Jones’ retaliation claim against the board of trustees.

What really happened in the Edward Jones case and why? Watkins addresses that question and much more:

We have independently investigated Edward Jones’ legal claims and the university's defenses based upon the pertinent court filings by the parties, witness interviews, court orders, and forensic evidence.

In today's Part 1 of this series of investigative articles, we focus on whether the university’s allegation that Dr. Jones engaged in the theft or misuse of university property has any merit, or whether this allegation was a pretext for his firing.

Part 2 will focus on whether Alabama A&M has subjected Dr. Jones to disparate treatment in firing him for sexual misconduct.

Watkins' investigation indicates A&M's search for evidence against Jones was filled with lies, fraud, and signs of a coverup. That is not likely to bolster public confidence in the university's actions. Writes Watkins:

Alabama A&M's allegation that Dr. Jones stole or misused university property (i.e., a University-issued laptop) is predicated on lies, fraud, and a massive, ongoing coverup by the university into what happened to Dr. Jones, and why. What is more, Dr. Wims appears to be directly implicated in the university's ongoing coverup of Officer Ruble's bungled search and seizure of electronic devices from Jones' home.

Here are some of the university's faux pas, lies, and signs of a coverup in Dr. Jones' case.

First, Officer Brian Ruble searched Dr. Jones’ on-campus office in October 2015, without a search warrant and in apparent violation of standard operating procedure for the university's police department. (This goes to apparent lack of probable cause, as mentioned above.) Ruble was later rewarded for his work in Jones' case with a promotion to captain on the university’s police force.

Second, on February 12, 2016, Ruble led Dennis Gardner, Timothy Dawkins, and Captain Amard Martin (who was second in command at the university police department) on a search of Jones’ off-campus home, car, and off-campus office for evidence of his sexual relationships. A Huntsville police officer (Julian Johnson) joined the university police officers' search of Dr. Jones’ home. The Huntsville police officer left the premises about 15 minutes after the search began. In announcing his sudden departure, this officer said the search did not seem to be lawful. (It appears this officer was right on target.)

Third, after the search of Dr. Jones’ home, car, and off-campus office was completed, Dr. Wims called Amard Martin to his office and told him, “You need to stay out of the Jones case.” Martin took that as a threat. Shortly after Wims’ threat, Martin was terminated as a captain on the university’s police force.

Fourth, Lt. Chris Coffey, the university police officer who often unlocked Dr. Jones's office when Jones worked on weekends, was promptly terminated at the conclusion of a meeting with Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Gary Crosby, officer Brian Ruble, and two university attorneys in May 2016. These officials appeared to be miffed with Coffey when his answers to their questions did not implicate Jones in any sexual improprieties. Even under duress, Coffey refused to provide false testimony on Jones. The university’s police chief – Monica Ray – was unaware of this meeting. She, herself, was later removed from the chief's job for questioning Crosby's excess intrusion into the police department's day-to-day affairs.

Fifth, officer Dennis Gardner participated in the search of Dr. Jones’ home, car, and off-campus office. Gardner is listed as the author of certain police reports that Alabama A&M produced to Jones’ legal team in his federal-court litigation. However, Gardner has testified, via an affidavit, that he did not write these police reports and they contained “false or misleading statements.” Gardner further testified that he never gave Officer Ruble permission to use his name or credentials to prepare the false police reports in Edward Jones’ case. Gardner concluded his testimony by stating, “it is my position that the subject police reports were forged [ ]." Alabama A&M fired Officer Gardner when he refused to participate in a police coverup of Ruble’s "forged" police reports in Dr. Jones’ case.

Sixth, Officer Ruble claimed that Dr. Jones stole about 10 items of university property that were assigned to his university program -- The Teacher Service Center. At the direction of President Andrew Hugine and Dean Curtis Martin, Ruble met with Talbert Cox, Alabama A&M’s property manager, as part of his investigation. Cox took Ruble to the property room to see if they could locate the “stolen” items. Every item on Ruble’s list was accounted for. None of the items was stolen or missing. Despite this exculpatory evidence in Jones' favor, Alabama A&M persisted in claiming that Dr. Jones had stolen university property.

Seventh, after denying Dr. Jones access to the two electronic devices Officer Ruble seized for more than seven years, Alabama A&M finally turned over Jones’ personal cell phone to him. This item of evidence had been tampered with after the seizure. Alabama A&M failed to follow standard forensic procedures for preserving digital evidence. Specifically, Officer Ruble did not immediately place the iPhone in airplane mode. What is more, a forensics expert hired by Dr. Jones has found evidence of significant and illegal manipulation of the data. In particular, some 419 files were modified and/or deleted from the iPhone and 36 phone calls were deleted. Further, the iPhone's internal clock had been rolled back--an effort that was both intentional and purposeful.

An independent digital-forensics consultant for reviewed the same cellphone extraction data and reached the same conclusion -- the data on Dr. Jones' phone had been manipulated after Officer Ruble seized it.

Eighth, there is no credible evidence to support Alabama A&M's contention that pornographic images were downloaded onto the old Alabama A&M-issued laptop prior to the search of Dr. Jones' home. Furthermore, Dr. Jones had a legal right to possess this laptop until his termination on March 16, 2016 -- the date of his employment termination.

The list of university lies and acts of deceit perpetrated by Alabama A&M in Dr. Jones' case seems to be endless. What is more, the university successfully used these lies to achieve a strategic advantage in the first federal lawsuit Jones filed against the university, which the Court dismissed.

Additionally, these lies were used to induce the Madison County District Attorney's Office to further punish Dr. Jones by indicting him on a theft of property felony charge on July 28, 2017. On September 24, 2018, Dr. Jones filed an "Alford" or "Best Interests" plea to a reduced misdemeanor charge and disposed of this criminal case by paying a $1,000 fine, only. No court costs were assessed against Dr. Jones, and he made no restitution payment. The misdemeanor charge had nothing to do with the electronic devices Office Ruble seized during his searches of Dr. Jones' office, home, and car. This kind of disposition of a misdemeanor criminal case is equivalent to a nuisance value settlement of a civil lawsuit.

Dr. Wims, who thrust himself into the vortex of the Edward Jones case and threatened police Capt. Amard Martin, is one of the Alabama A&M employees who benefited from preferential treatment in the face of sexual-misconduct allegations. During the presidential search in 2021, allegations of sexual misconduct against Dr. Wims involving three women and one man surfaced publicly. Wims denied the allegations.

The presidential search committee never independently investigated the sexual misconduct allegations against Dr. Wims. Likewise, there was no university police investigation, as was the case with Dr. Jones. Instead, outgoing president Andrew Hugine simply turned himself into a spontaneous character witness for Dr. Wims and declared him "fit" for the presidency. Thereafter, Alabama A&M’s ceremonial board of trustees promoted Wims from provost to president.

Alabama A&M has been mired in controversy and scandal ever since Dr. Wims, a closet MAGA Republican who actually lives in Georgia, has been president.

In Part 2 of his series, Watkins will address this question: Was Dr. Jones subjected to disparate treatment? Writes Watkins:

Part 2 of this series of articles will examine whether Alabama A&M subjected Dr. Edward Jones to unlawful disparate treatment with respect to: (a) allegations of sexual misconduct; and (b) the unequal application of personnel policies that benefited certain high-ranking employees who faced allegations of sexual misonduct with women and men on campus, who were allowed to continue in their jobs, and who received promotions, while Dr. Jones was fired.

Stay tuned!

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