Saturday, December 30, 2023

Colorado records reveal Bryan Dawson's violent streak that led to attempted-murder charges, but now Dawson is CEO of right-wing news site in Alabama

Bryan Dawson (left) and Jeff Poor on an 1819 podcast.

Police reports from Colorado indicate Kenneth Bryan Dawson engaged in horrific acts of violence before winding up in Alabama and becoming the head of 1819 News, a conservative news site that published a series of articles leading to the suicide of small-town Alabama mayor Fred "Bubba" Copeland. That's from a post today at

Word of  Dawson's criminal record has been pretty well known for some time. But Watkins, a longtime Alabama attorney who has become a leading voice in online investigative journalism, takes a deep dive into the police investigation that produced first-degree attempted murder charges against Dawson, providing hair-raising insights into Dawson's conduct before he became a news executive in Alabama.

Speaking of which, how did Dawson, with his penchant for over-the-top violence and no apparent background in journalism, become a news executive at a site with ties to the Alabama Policy Institute (API), a right-wing think tank that grew from the same soil that produced Gary Palmer (R-AL), who briefly was in the running for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives before the job went to Mike Johnson of Louisiana. Palmer and his allies reportedly have taken steps to keep their connections to Bryan Dawson on the "down low." It is going to be difficult, however to hide from the graphic descriptions of Dawson's violent past that Watkins unearthed in today's exclusive investigative report.

Watkins' report, after all, shows Dawson is capable of attempted murder, and one might think that issue would be of concern to Gary Palmer & Co., rather than being treated as something to sweep out of sight. Under the headline "An Inside Look into Kenneth Bryan Dawson’s First Degree Attempted Murder Investigation," Watkins writes:

Today, he is the co-founder, president, CEO, and publisher of Birmingham, Alabama-based 1819 News.  His real name is Kenneth Bryan Dawson.

Dawson is the man who “outed” former Smiths Stations, Alabama Mayor Fred “Bubba” Copeland on November 1, 2023, for engaging in crossing-dressing activities in his home and writing works of erotic fiction. Three days after he was "outed," Bubba Copeland killed himself with a gun.

In April 2007, Kenneth Bryan Dawson was a hardcore drug trafficker and serial motor vehicle thief in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who tortured a member of his motor-vehicle theft ring with a taser and beat him with a padlock attached to a heavy chain – all because Dawson thought this violent crime victim was a “snitch.” 

Justin Joslin, Dawson’s attempted-murder victim, said Dawson tased him 15 to 20 times. Joslin had burn marks on his legs and arms from the tasing. Joslin also sustained blunt force trauma to his forehead caused by Dawson hitting him with the padlock.

The treating physicians at the hospital told police Joslin was “lucky to be alive.”

Dawson sounds like a swell guy, doesn't he? Just the type you would want to hire to run a news operation -- assuming you could keep him from MAKING news by trying to murder people who displease him. Writes Watkins:

The Colorado Springs, Colorado Police Department investigative report on Dawson’s attempted murder is detailed and damning.  [The police file may be viewed by clicking the link here.]

Dawson accused Joslin of being a “snitch” for the police. 

Dawson threatened Joslin that if he (Joslin) went to the police about this incident, “I will shoot you in the face, I will fucking kill you.

Gee, that's lovely. And this is a guy who now apparently is viewed as somewhat of a pastor, known to give fiery sermons at Alabama churches. And this question comes to mind: What if a reporter made a mistake in the 1819 newsroom? Would Dawson threaten to f----g kill him or her? I've had some tough editors in my 40-plus years in journalism, but I've never had one that sounded like a threat to public safety. Should Dawson even be allowed to work around other human beings? Writes Watkins:

After Dawson was arrested, police found methamphetamine, glass pipes for smoking it, cash, the taser Dawson used on Joslin, and an illegal sawed-off shotgun. They also retrieved the computer and camera that Dawson and his accomplice, Alexander Poe, stole from Joslin’s home.

Poe was also involved in Dawson’s drug-trafficking ring. Police located Poe inside a “stash house” used by Dawson.

In 2021, the Alabama Policy Institute launched Dawson’s 1819 News operations in Alabama with a $1,077,500 contribution to 1819 Media LLC.

Today, Kenneth Bryan Dawson, via his 1819 News multimedia platforms, effectively serves as the public face and media voice of the Alabama Policy Institute.

Gee, what does Dawson keep in his desk at the 1819 newsroom? Maybe someone needs to check. Does Dawson have a "stash house" in Alabama? The questions never end with this guy.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Nikki Haley might want to be "white," but she is "colored" -- the likely cause of her struggle with a Civil War question -- but she should recognize that "colored" people gave opportunity to her family in U.S.

Nikki Haley

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley apparently wants to be 'white," even though she clearly is "colored," which probably explains her tortured attempts to answer a simple question about the cause of the American Civil War, according to a post today at

Watkins, a longtime Alabama attorney who has become a leading voice in online investigative journalism, knows what it is like to be "colored" in a society with a racist past, a racist present, and probably a racist future. Watkins learned long ago that, in such an environment, it is important to be true to yourself, to embrace who you truly are. Nikki Haley, it seems, still needs to learn that lesson.

Under the headline "Urgent Message to Nikki Haley: You Are Not "White." You Are "Colored," Watkins writes an open letter to Nikki Haley, who was born in India but rose to become governor of South Carolina (2011-17) and United States ambassador to the United Nations (2017-18), even though she still has much to learn about "matters of black and white" in her adopted homeland. Writes Watkins:

Dear Nikki Haley,

In case you did not know it, you are not "white.You are "colored."

You are an American citizen, whose parents -- Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa -- were Sikh immigrants from Amritsar, Punjab, India.  Your birth name is Nimarata Nikki Randhawa.

Nikki is your middle name.  Haley is your married name.  The name “Nikki Haley” sounds "white" but it does not make you "white." 

In the minds of most Americans, your bloodline determines your race. If you have a drop of "colored" blood in your veins, most Americans view you as "colored." Until the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, the "one-drop rule" was backed by the force of law in America.

Your parents immigrated from India to Canada in 1964 after your father received a scholarship offer from the University of British Columbia. After he received his PhD degree in 1969, your father moved his family to South Carolina to become a professor of biology at Voorhees College, a historically Black institution in Denmark, South Carolina. Your father retired from teaching in 1998.

Despite a long history of claiming to be "Aryan" or "white," the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the case of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923) that Sikh Indians like you are not "white."  Read the court case for yourself. 

Watkins has learned about these issues from a front-row seat. He writes:

You are “colored,” just like me.  Within the "colored" world, I am a mixture of African descendants, Native-American ancestors, and Caucasian immigrants from Scotland and Ireland.

You damn sure do not have the “Aryan racial purity” that fellow Sikh Bhagat Singh Thind argued in his case, and the Supreme Court soundly rejected.

Watkins senses that Haley does not fully appreciate all "colored" people have done for her family in America:

By the way, a Black college gave your Sikh father the ability to feed, clothe, and shelter his family, including you, your two brothers, and your sister. For this, you should be eternally and publicly grateful.

In 1969, rampant racial discrimination against “colored” people in South Carolina (and elsewhere in the South) prevented your highly-educated father from working at a historically White college or university.

So, the next time somebody on the campaign trail asks you about the Civil War, please tell them the truth. Tell them you are the child of “colored” immigrants who invaded America by coming across its northern border with Canada. Tell them a Black college was the only place your "colored" father could teach in 1969. 

Tell them that the Civil War was about the enslavement of Blacks of African descent. They were chattel property, just like horses, cows, dogs, and other animals that could be bought and sold at will, or killed without any criminal consequences. The war was fought because most Americans wanted to end slavery.

Tell them the true history of Sikhs from India and how your family was mistreated when they first came to the United States.

Never deny your Sikh heritage and family’s story for anybody, or for any reason.

Watkins points to Barack Obama as evidence that a person of color -- even one with an unusual name -- can go far in present-day America:

Barack Obama proved that Americans will elect a president of color, twice.  You don’t have to pretend to be "white" to win the presidency.  If you do, your presidential campaign will "crash and burn" just like former Louisiana governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

As you know, Bobby Jindal’s parents were immigrants from the same place in India that your parents came from.  Like you, Jindal pretended he was "white" when, in fact, he is “colored.”

You and your progeny will always be viewed ascolored," especially if you continue pandering to and perpetuating the willful ignorance of American history for selfish and narrow-minded political gain.

In the end, winning is not about election outcomes. It is all about being true to yourself.


Donald V. Watkins

Photo of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, posing with his former law clerks, reflects his deep-seated hostility toward people of his own race

Clarence Thomas (front,center) poses with his former law clerks

What was the most important government-related news story of 2023? Our choice comes under the heading of "Unmasking the U.S. Supreme Court." Opinion polls show public perception of the nation's highest court plummeted this year, and that largely can be attributed to one man -- Justice Clarence Thomas (with an assist from fellow GOP nominee Samuel Alito). ProPublica started unmasking Thomas and his fellow Supremes when it reported that, for more than 20 years, the justice had been treated to luxury vacations by Texas billionaire Harlan Crow. How did that affect perceptions of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)? CNN sums it up under the headline "As Clarence Thomas faces record unpopularity, Americans want an ethics code for the Supreme Court." Reporter Harry Enten writes:

Take a look at a Marquette University Law School poll conducted in July. Just 32% of Americans rated the honesty and ethical standards of the Supreme Court justices as high, while 35% percent said they were low and 33% said they were average. . . . 

From a historical standpoint, 32% is low. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, about 50% of Americans agreed that the moral and ethical practices of the Supreme Court justices were excellent or good. Only about 15%, on average, said they were poor.

In the Clarence Thomas era, SCOTUS has seen its "ethics stock" fall off a cliff. That does not surprise longtime Alabama attorney Donald Watkins, who has encountered a wide range of sleazy activity surrounding the judiciary -- both federal and state -- in a career spanning roughly 50 years. One trait that Watkins finds particularly troubling about Thomas is his tendency to embrace a peculiar kind of bigotry -- prejudice against people of his own race.  

Watkins addresses the issue in a post titled "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Clarence Thomas Posing with His Former Law Clerks! It includes a photograph of Thomas posing with his former law clerks -- and if the photo includes  a Black face -- other than the one belonging to Thomas -- it sure is hard to find. (The photo can be found at the top of this post.) In a post published on Christmas Day, Watkins writes:

I saved this photo for Christmas Day!  It is a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at a retreat with his former law clerks in 2021. Thomas refers to these law clerks as his "extended family."

You can pretty much guess who paid for this retreat at the luxurious Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia. Hint: It was NOT Clarence Thomas. (My guess? Harlan Crow.)

Clarence Thomas hires four law clerks each year. These are the people Thomas launches into the halls of power in America at the conclusion of their clerkship with him.

All of Thomas’ former law clerks worked for Republican appellate-court judges prior to getting hired by him. Unless you are blind, you can see for yourself what else these law clerks have in common.

Today, the reach of Clarence Thomas’ former law clerks is far and wide, and they wield tremendous power and influence across the nation.

So, What's Wrong with this Picture? Watkins asks:

To me, it reflects Clarence Thomas’ deep-seated racial bigotry against Black people.  Thomas gets away with his "in-your-face" bigotry because he is Black -- in skin color only.

I know of no case where Clarence Thomas ruled in favor of a Black plaintiff in a civil-rights case or a Black criminal defendant during his 32 years on the federal bench. In his judicial rulings, Clarence Thomas has gone out of his way to inflict the maximum pain and suffering possible upon tens of millions of Black Americans and women.

Clarence Thomas is viewed by the overwhelming majority of Black Americans the same way the Jewish Ghetto Police were viewed by Jews living in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.

Ultimately, the Jewish Ghetto Police shared the same fate as their fellow Jewish ghetto residents. When the Nazis liquidated the ghettos in 1942–1943, they killed the Jewish police officers on-site or sent them to extermination camps.

Read the full story about Clarence Thomas and his former law clerks in the December 24, 2023, edition of the New York Times. 

When people show you who they are, believe them!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Alabama A&M's "cease and desist" lawyer has a family history of furthering George Wallace's legacy by helping ensure the state's HBCUs are underfunded

George Wallace: The Guv'nah who helped cheat Alabama A&M

An attorney who has sent "cease and desist" letters on behalf of Alabama A&M -- an apparent effort to effectively gag journalists who have reported on various scandals swirling at the university's Huntsville campus -- has a family history of opposing equitable funding for Alabama's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), according to a post today at

Perhaps the actions of Thomas W. Thagard III should be no surprise, given that his father Thomas W. Thagard Jr. (deceased) worked for Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm, which had ties to Gov. George Wallace -- who was infamous for his antipathy toward Blacks -- and his ties to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), via a Wallace-related highway-funding scandal.

Essentially, Thagard III is trying to further the legacy of George Wallace, a politico who never was known to hide his racist inclinations. Alabama A&M once had presidents who fought to get equitable funding, both for the Huntsville campus and its sister HBCU -- Alabama State University in Montgomery. But A&M now is content to be represented by a law firm, MaynardNexsen, that borrows from the George Wallace playbook?

That is a sign of the pitiful "leadership A&M now is experiencing under President Daniel K. Wims. To add a touch of irony to the situation, a Watkins post this week showed that George Wallace played a significant role in the chronic underfunding that led the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture to conclude that the state of Alabama owes A&M more than $527 million due to it being short-changed on state funding over roughly a 30-year period. Current Gov. Kay Ivey, a White MAGA Republican, claims the state does not owe the money, and the Wims administration has made no attempt to collect it.

What about Thomas W. Thagard III and his family's history of fighting efforts to obtain equitable funding for Alabama's HBCUs? Donald Watkins provides perspective on that question under  the headline "The Father of Alabama A&M University’s “Cease and Desist” Lawyer Waged a Long and Vicious Fight Against Equitable Funding for the University":

On December 20, 2023, Thomas W. Thagard, III, sent a “Cease and Desist” letter to independent journalists Roger Alan Shuler and me. The letter threatened us with a bogus defamation lawsuit over recent articles we published on the growing scandal surrounding Alabama A&M University’s refusal to publicly acknowledge and demand payment of a $527,280,064 debt owed to the university by the state of Alabama.

Thomas W. Thagard, III, is the son of Thomas W. Thagard, Jr. (deceased), a former Balch & Bingham attorney who represented Auburn University in the long-running Knight v. Alabama higher education desegregation case that I filed for the original plaintiffs in 1981

Thomas W. Thagard, Jr.’s name appears in the "Attorneys and Parties" section at the beginning of the landmark 1991 and 1995 published opinions in the Knight v. Alabama case. Read it for yourself.

Auburn University, which benefited financially from more than a hundred years of funding discrimination against Alabama A&M, fought “tooth and nail” against court-ordered equitable funding for Alabama A&M.

Thomas W. Thagard, Jr., who was a brilliant lawyer and the son of Judge Thomas Werth Thagard, also succeeded in getting former U.S. District Court Judge U.W. Clemon, who is Black, booted from presiding over the case after Clemon issued his 1991 court opinion in favor of the plaintiffs in the case.

Today, Alabama A&M President Daniel Wims has aligned himself with Thomas W. Thagard, III, and weaponized Thagard to threaten journalists who criticized Wims' failure to claim and collect the $527,280,064 debt that rightfully belongs to Alabama A&M.

What kind of picture does this present for those who care deeply about, and support, Alabama A&M? It is not a pretty picture, Watkins says:

The optics of this new cozy Wims-Thagard bedfellows arrangement are horrible for Alabama A&M, given Thomas W. Thagard, Jr.'s long, ugly, and adversarial history with Alabama A&M. This is the kind of misguided move we would expect from a certified and compromised "Uncle Tom" like Clarence Thomas.

Daniel K. Wims is a proven "sellout" to Bulldog Nation who has masqueraded as Alabama A&M president since January 2022. University trustees, who should be closely supervising Wims, are merely ceremonial pawns in his harmful game of "buck-dancing."

As for me, I am okay with fighting two generations of Thomas W. Thagards to secure the equitable funding that is due and owing to Alabama A&M, including the $527,280,064 that President Wims is afraid to collect.  I am accustomed to waging long, hard, aggressive, fights to enforce our civil and constitutional rights.

I have been fighting for equitable funding for Alabama A&M University since 1973.  I don’t care if the threat to Alabama A&M's equitable funding is perpetrated by a White or Black adversary, or it comes from inside or outside of the university, or it involves a first- or second-generation legal gunslinger.

Now you understand why our adversaries in Alabama do not want us to know our history. They want us clueless, compromised, and weak, like Daniel K. Wims and his current board of university trustees.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

I receive a "cease and desist" letter from law firm representing Alabama A&M, which appears identical to one Donald Watkins received, threatening a lawsuit -- and it includes a number of defective demands

I have received a "cease and desist" letter from a law firm, threatening me with a defamation lawsuit over my reporting here at Legal Schnauzer on various scandals swirling around the Alabama A&M University campus in Huntsville, including the school's failure to demand payment of a $527-million debt the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture say it is owed by the state of Alabama as a result of chronic underfunding over roughly a 30-year period.

The letter I received is dated Dec. 21, 2023, the same date as a letter sent to attorney and online investigative journalist Donald Watkins. The Maynard Nexsen law firm, which has an office in Birmingham, sent both letters, and the contents appear to be identical. The letters indicate the firm is representing Alabama A&M as an institution and several of its unidentified employees.

Watkins' response to the MaynardNexsen letter can be read by clicking here. The issues he raises appear to also apply to me. Here are several key issues Watkins raises in his response:

* I understand from your letter that your law firm represents Alabama A&M
University, a public institution, and President Daniel K. Wims. You also claim to
be representing other Alabama A&M Parties, but you did not specify who these
parties are.

* Does your law firm represent President Wims in his official capacity only,
or do you also represent Dr. Wims in his personal capacity for the purpose of filing a
state-law tort claim for alleged defamation?

* Also, please identify the other Alabama A&M Parties your firm represents
and provide me with each person’s job title. If these individuals are “managing or
general agents” of Alabama A&M (within the Federal/Alabama Rules of Civil
Procedure and Evidence), please specify this status, as well. With respect to any “managing or general agent” among the Alabama A&M Parties, please tell me whether your firm represents this individual in his/her official capacity only, or whether you represents these individuals for the purpose of filing tort claims for alleged defamation.

* Your letter claims that my published editorial opinions regarding the
Alabama A&M Parties are false and defamatory. You have demanded that I retract
all of my editorial opinions about the Alabama A&M parties and cease publishing
future articles about the university and its public officials.

* So that you know, I have posted more than two dozen editorial opinions on
matters of significant public interest about Alabama A&M University since
September 19, 2023. Your letter treats these editorial opinions as a group of
articles, as opposed to separate and distinct publications. To this extent, your
“Demand for a Retraction” is defective.

* I am requesting that you cure this defect by providing me with the following
information so that I can properly evaluate your purported defamation claims, as
well as your demand for a retraction:

1. Please identify each statement the Alabama A&M Parties claim was
defamatory and provide: (a) the exact statement referenced, (b) the title of
the article in which the statement appears, (c) the date of the article’s
publication, (d) the name and title of the Alabama A&M Party who claims
he/she was defamed by this statement.

* In the event your client(s) move forward with litigation, I plan to file a
counterclaim against Alabama A&M University for infringing upon my First
Amendment rights and avail myself of other legal rights afforded to me under
California law. This letter places the Alabama A&M Parties on notice to affirmatively
preserve, and not delete, any and all physical and electronic documents, materials,
information, and data.

* [Please include] all documents relating to the Alabama A&M Parties and their interaction
with Kenneth Boswell, Steve Flowers, Josh Moon, Bill Britt, Yellowhammer
, Alabama Power Company, Gov. Kay Ivey, U.S. Senator Tommy
Tuberville, State Senator Sam Givhan, Congresswomen Terri Sewell, State
Representative Anthony Daniels, State Senator Bobby Singleton,
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, and Trustees Ralph Williams, Kevin
Ball, Tiffany Johnson Cole, and Roderick D. Watts.

* Your “Cease and Desist” letter seeks to remove posted articles and stop the
publication of future articles regarding the Alabama A&M parties. I have found no
federal or state case or statute that supports the proposition that a public university
can sue for defamation for itself and for its public officials/managing agents.
Furthermore, I stand by the truth of the statements contained in the cache of
editorial opinions referenced in your letter, as well as my First Amendment right to
express such opinions.

* I look forward to receiving the information requested in this letter. It will
assist me in determining: (a) whether the unspecified Alabama A&M Parties are
due a correction and/or retraction, and (b) whether a proper demand for a retraction
has been made by the appropriate counsel for public officials/managing agents who
seek to bring personal defamation claims in a First Amendment case involving their
principal/public employer.

 (Note: I apologize for the uneven margins in the above post. A technical gremlin seems to have entered our environment here at Legal Schnauzer, and I have yet to determine what it is and how to deal with it. I hope to have this resolved shortly. Thank you for reading, as we head to the end of our 17th year of publishing legal and related news on the Web. I'm not sure any other Alabama-based news blog has been publishing continuously for as long as this one -- and for that, we thank you, our readers. A news blog, without readers, isn't worth much, so we have been fortunate to attract a readership of thoughtful, engaged citizens, and we thank you for your interest and support through the years. Happy holidays to all, and our best wishes for a prosperous 2024, from our Legal Schnauzer household to yours!)

Alabama A&M has not always had squishy presidents like Daniel K. Wims; in fact, two of them fought hard to achieve equitable funding for their university

Dr. Richard Morrison

With President Daniel K. Wims at the helm, Alabama A&M has "leadership" that seems to feature a spine of Jell-O. It was not always that way. In fact, the Huntsville campus once had presidents who stood for something -- and who were willing to stand up to powerful forces who wanted to keep their school underfunded and out of sight, as much as possible -- according to a post today at

Watkins, a longtime attorney who has become a prominent voice in online investigative journalism, writes under the headline "There Was a Time When Alabama A&M University Presidents Had Real Courage":

There was a time when Alabama A&M University presidents had real courage. I personally witnessed tremendous acts of courage and love for the university by two of them – Presidents Richard D. Morrison (1962 to 1984) and John T. Gibson (1996 to 2005).

When I was 14 years old, I accompanied Dr. Richard D. Morrison and my father, Dr. Levi Watkins (president of Alabama State University from 1962 to 1981) to Gov. George C. Wallace’s office at the State Capitol for a budget appropriation presentation during Wallace’s first year as governor. I was working as a part-time, unpaid, intern in my father's office.

The meeting occurred several months after Wallace’s infamous inaugural speech that January in which he proclaimed, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Did Wallace greet the presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) with a welcoming hand? No, Donald Watkins recalls. In fact, you could say "The Guv' nah" was downright rude. Writes Watkins:

Dr. Morrison and my father were not allowed to wait in the governor’s office for their turn to present their budget requests for the upcoming school year. We had to wait in the hallway outside the governor’s office.

At the time, there were no Black state senators, representatives, or cabinet members in the first Wallace administration. The only Blacks in the Capitol building were janitors and maids, butlers, and delivery “boys.”

The three of us waited for what seemed like hours to see Gov. Wallace. I was bored, but Dr. Morrison and my father busied themselves by studying their budget presentations.

Wallace’s finance director came to get us after the governor had finished meeting with the head of the state's prison system about his agency's separate budgets for White and Black prisons.  

Alabama A&M and Alabama State were the last state agencies that made budget presentations to Wallace, his state finance director, and the superintendent of education (who oversaw Alabama A&M and Alabama State for the State Board of Education).

After we entered Gov. Wallace's executive office, the finance director told Dr. Morrison and my father that Wallace and the officials gathered in the office did not have time to listen to any detailed budget presentations from the "Niggra" schools. He told them what money was left after all of the other state agencies had been funded, including the state prisons. The leftover money in the appropriations bill was the funding that Alabama A&M and Alabama State would receive for the next fiscal year.

Dr. Morrison and my father were not allowed to sit down at the conference table in the governor’s office. I watched both men ignore the finance director’s dismissive attitude toward their universities and forcefully plead their case for more money -- all to no avail. Yet, nothing that was said or done by Gov. Wallace and his henchmen broke the fighting spirit of these two HBCU presidents.

A casual observer might have concluded the two Black presidents wasted their time that day. But it did not turn out that way in the long run. Donald Watkins explains:

Dr. Morrison and my father gave it everything they had on that day, but it didn’t matter.  In the end, Alabama A&M and Alabama State were valued less than the state prisons.

I never forgot that meeting and the way those two brave men fought with dignity for equitable funding for their universities.

After I became a lawyer in 1973, Dr. Morrison, my father, and I began to strategize on how we could get equitable funding for Alabama A&M and Alabama State. For the next seven years, we secretly explored and kicked around a lot of legal strategies for reaching this goal. I spent a lot of time with Dr. Morrison developing our game plan while I was in Huntsville litigating employment-discrimination cases for brave local civil-rights leaders like Mingo Clark and McKinley Bailey.

After President Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, we knew it was time to implement the legal game plan the three of us had agreed upon. We would begin the fight by suing Gov. Fob James, Troy State University, Auburn University, the Alabama Public School and College Authority, and the Alabama Commission for Higher Education in the first phase of the litigation.  We had to show state officials that we were dead serious about equitable funding for Alabama State and Alabama A&M.

John T. Gibson Played a Leading Role as an Original Plaintiff in the Knight Litigation, Watkins writes:

In 1981, we filed suit in Knight v. James, seeking a court order to merge Auburn University at Montgomery and Troy State at Montgomery into Alabama State under the name of "Alabama State University" and under the control of Alabama State's Board of Trustees. We knew this lawsuit would get everybody's attention at the State Capitol, and it did.

Over the next few years, the case grew in scope and size and eventually became known as Knight v. Alabama. This expanded litigation added legal claims for Alabama A&M and sought equitable funding and new academic program offerings for both of the state-sponsored flagship HBCUs.

A critical part of the litigation plan was the selection of plaintiffs who could withstand death threats and would not buckle under gubernatorial pressure. One of those original plaintiffs in the 1981 Knight v. James case was Dr. John Thomas Gibson, my high school classmate. John’s wife Voncile was also my high school classmate.

John T. Gibson has always been super-smart and was born with a backbone of steel. Voncile was a staunch supporter of John’s fight for equitable funding and program offerings when John worked as an administrator at Alabama State in the 1980s and early 1990s and when he served as Alabama A&M’s president from 1996 to 2005.

John’s demonstrated courage as an original plaintiff in Knight v. James and later in the expanded Knight v. Alabama litigation is one of the primary reasons why Alabama A&M reaped massive court-ordered benefits from this 25-year court fight. 

Our adversaries in the Knight litigation tested John’s courage on many occasions, but they could never break him. They never took John's manhood from him. This is particularly true after John became president of Alabama A&M. 

John literally made the forces in Alabama that opposed Alabama A&M’s growth respect his university by actively working and developing the Knight case with the plaintiffs' attorneys. John demanded that all state officials respect Alabama A&M, and he would settle for nothing less from them.

Having seen Richard Morrison and John T. Gibson fight for Alabama A&M, Watkins cannot help but think of the university's sad plight today under Daniel K. Wims:

When I watch a compromised chameleon like Dr. Daniel K. Wims masquerading as an Alabama A&M University president today, I sense his betrayal of the courage, sacrifices, strength, and love for Alabama A&M that Presidents Richard Morrison and John T. Gibson showed the world from 1962 to 2005.

Today, President Wims will not go to the State Capitol and collect the $527,280,064 debt that the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture declared on September 18, 2023, is owed to Alabama A&M by the state of Alabama. Wims fears upsetting Gov. Kay Ivey and does not want to risk losing his job by asking for the university’s money. This is a level of cowardice and betrayal I cannot understand or condone.

In my view, Dr. Daniel K. Wims is a weak-kneed president (in name only) who will never fight for what rightfully belongs to Alabama A&M University. Sadly, Wims is Alabama A&M's nightmare version of Clarence Thomas.

Attorney Donald Watkins files criminal complaint with U.S. Dept. of Justice over fraud and conspiracy related to Alabama A&M, as law firm sends letters threatening defamation lawsuits for reporting on scandals related to $527-million debt and other dubious actions

U.S. Department of Justice

Attorney and online investigative journalist Donald Watkins has filed a criminal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over actions that have prevented Alabama A&M University from collecting a $527-million debt it is owed by the state of Alabama. The Watkins complaint includes a legal twist, as he explains in a post published yesterday under the headline "Criminal Complaint Filed with the U.S. Department of Justice Names Alabama A&M University as the "Victim" of an Honest Services Fraud Scheme and Conspiracy." Writes Watkins:

Yesterday [12/26/23], I filed a criminal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice naming Alabama A&M University as the "victim" of an honest services fraud scheme and conspiracy arising from the university's failure to aggressively, faithfully, and fully pursue collection of a $527,280,064 debt owed to this Second Morrill Act of 1890 land-grant institution by the state of Alabama. 

This $527,280,064 debt was publicly announced on September 18, 2023, by the Departments of Education and Agriculture. As alleged in the complaint, the honest services fraud scheme is led by Alabama A&M President Daniel K. Wims, and it has jeopardized and compromised the university's ability to collect this $527,280,064 debt.

In my opinion, the honest services fraud scheme alleged in the complaint is an unconscionable and despicable "sellout" of a premier Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in America. In my view, no other legal action is sufficient to stop this "sellout."

The complaint speaks for itself. Click here to read the complaint.

Watkins' criminal complaint comes six days after the MaynardNexsen law firm, acting on behalf of Alabama A&M and unidentified university employees, sent Watkins a "cease and desist letter," threatening to file a defamation lawsuit against him for reporting on scandals swirling around the A&M campus in Huntsville, including A&M's failure to demand payment on a $527,280,064 debt the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture  say the state of Alabama owes A&M due to chronic underfunding over a period of roughly 30 years.
Here are key sections of Watkins' complaint to the DOJ:
(1) The Honest Services Fraud, Waste, and Abuse at Alabama A&M
Alabama A&M is the victim of honest services fraud, waste, and abuse with
respect to this $527,280,064 debt.
This case involves an ongoing honest services fraud scheme, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1346, and a conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1349.

By state law, President [Daniel] Wims and the university’s board of trustees have a statutory and fiduciary duty to provide honest services to Alabama A&M. This duty includes the responsibility to protect, secure, and safeguard all assets in the university’s portfolio of assets, including: (a) all university funds, (b) legal claims to university funds in the possession of another person or entity, and (c) causes of action in major debt-collection matters, without any regard to personal gain or loss.

No state or federal statute authorizes Wims and those acting in concert with
him to engage in an honest services fraud scheme and conspiracy that has the purpose or effect of wasting university assets, jeopardizing  university financial claims, and abusing the university’s governance apparatus.
After Gov. Ivey and Daniel Wims received the federal government’s
September 18, 2023, letter, Wims, acting in concert with (i) certain university trustees, who had a conflict of interest, (ii) the Dentons law firm, which is conflicted, (iii) the MaynardNexsen law firm, which is conflicted, and (iv) various professional services vendors chosen by Wims, engaged in an honest services fraud scheme to undermine, compromise, or otherwise harm Alabama A&M’s entitlement to the
$527,280,064 referenced in the federal government’s September 18th letter.
The object and purpose of the scheme and conspiracy was to: (a) secure and
protect Wims’ presidential job and his attendant $400,000 annual salary in the face of Gov. Ivey dismissive attitude towards the government’s claim that Alabama A&M is entitled to $527,280,064, (b) protect the revenue streams flowing between the state and certain business interests tied to the conflicted trustees, and (c) allow the conflicted law firms and other participants to feast off Alabama A&M’s operating budget monies.

The following section is of particular interest because MaynardNexsen, which has an office in Birmingham, has sent "cease and desist" letters to both Watkins and me, threatening defamation lawsuits against both of us for our reporting on matters of public interest at Alabama A&M. From the Watkins criminal complaint:

MaynardNexsen’s role in the fraud scheme is to silence whistleblowers by
using the threat of state-law defamation prosecutions against them. The law firm’s authority to do so comes from approvals granted by Wims and others who are acting in concert with Wims to defraud Alabama A&M of honest services with respect to the $527,280,064 debt.

MaynardNexsen’s predecessor, Maynard Cooper & Gale PC, represented
Defendant University of Alabama Board of Trustees in opposing the legal claims and relief obtained in 2004 by the Knight plaintiffs for the benefit of Alabama A&M. Whether Alabama A&M suffered “unequitable funding” during the 1993 to 2005 portion of the past 30 years, as claimed by the Departments of Education and Agriculture, was one of the hotly disputed legal claims in the Knight case before it was finally resolved in 2005.
The Knight case did not and could not resolve funding inequities between Alabama A&M and Auburn University arising from acts of discrimination from 2005 to 2023.

Additional material facts regarding Wims’ honest services fraud scheme and conspiracy with respect to this $527,280,064 debt will be shared with investigators during the Department’s investigation.

At this time, it is unclear if the threats in the Maynard/Nexsen letters have any basis in law or fact. It is clear, the Maynard firm claims to be acting on behalf of Alabama A&M, as an institution, and certain university employees, who are unidentified in the letters. Here is more from the Watkins complaint:

(2) Request for a Full Criminal Investigation and Whistleblower
Status and Protection
I am seeking whistleblower protection in my interaction with the Criminal
Division. I am also seeking protection from retaliation, as the Office of Governor views itself as the “Chief Magistrate of the State” and has a history of abusing the power of this Magistrate’s position to unlawfully harass and retaliate against individuals who report fraud, waste, and abuse to regulatory and law-enforcement agencies. (See, Report of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Articles of Impeachment Against Governor Robert Bentley Pursuant to House Rule 79.1, dated April 25, 2017, Attachment titled, Pre-Hearing Submission of Special Counsel regarding Governor Bentley’s “Special Investigations,” at pp. 86-92.) I was a target of Gov. Bentley’s “Special Investigations.” (Id. at p.87).

Finally, I am also reserving my right to receive whistleblower compensation,
if and to the extent that (a) the Department’s investigation of my complaint finds criminal/civil wrongdoing by Wims and those who acted in concert with him to defraud Alabama A&M out of money and honest government services, and (b) the investigation results in Alabama A&M University obtaining the full amount of debt payment/restitution that is due and owing the university, together with statutory interest accruing at 7.5% per annum. AL Code § 8-8-10 (2022).

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Alabama A&M trustees are riddled with conflicts of interest as the university fails to demand payment on $527-million debt it is owed by the state of Alabama

Alabama A&M University

Several members of the board of trustees at Alabama A&M University have ties to businesses that receive payments from the state of Alabama. The resulting conflicts of interest help explain A&M's failure to demand payment on a $527-million debt the state owes the university. That's from a report today at donaldwatkins,com.

Watkins, a longtime attorney and civil-rights advocate who has become a leading voice in online investigative journalism, writes under the headline "Four of the Five Alabama A&M Trustees Who Are Overseeing the School's Handling of the State's $527-Million Debt to A&M Are Getting State Money for Private Business Interests That Are Tied to Them": 

Financial mysteries are usually solved by following the money. The money that is flowing into the private world of four Alabama A&M University trustees sheds much needed light on why an underfunded public HBCU has been silent about its efforts to collect the $527,280,064 debt owed to the university by the state of Alabama.

For more than three months, an inquiring Alabama A&M Bulldog Nation has been wondering about the status of $527,280,064 the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture say is owed to Alabama A&M by the state of Alabama. These federal departments notified Gov. Kay Ivey about the debt in a September 18, 2023, letter.

In a letter, dated September 28, 2023, Gov. Ivey essentially disputed the debt.  She claims that Alabama A&M is not owed any money because the state has been more than fair in its funding of the school.

Watkins' sources confirm that the state has adopted a "blow it out your ear" attitude regarding the substantial  sum it owes Alabama A&M. While university leaders have adopted a public code of silence on the matter, all is not quiet behind the scenes. But that is where the impact of conflicts might play out, Watkins reports:

Our confidential sources inside the State Capitol in Montgomery tell us the state has no intention of paying this $527,280,064 debt. The same defiant attitude that led the state to resist the creation of a court-ordered second Black Congressional district in June of 2023 is now causing the state to challenge the federal government's declaration that Alabama A&M is owed $527,280,064.

Neither President Daniel K. Wims, nor Alabama A&M's board of trustees, has made any public statement about this $527,280,064 debt.

Behind the scenes, however, a five-member executive committee of Alabama A&M's board of trustees has been interacting with President Wims about this matter and rubber-stamping Wims' failure and refusal to make a public demand for the full and immediate payment of the $527,280,064 debt.

The executive committee also approved the hiring of a national law firm (MaynardNexsen) to send independent journalists like me a “Cease and Desist” letter demanding that we stop reporting on, and editorializing about, Alabama A&M’s failure to acknowledge and/or collect the $527,280,064 debt owed by the state.

Is the executive committee conflict-free? Not exactly, Watkins writes:

The executive committee is led by Board Chairman Roderick DeWayne Watts, a staunch Wims supporter. The other four members of the executive committee are Kevin Ball, Scherrie Banks Pickett, Tiffany Johnson Cole, and Richard Crunkleton.

Four of these five committee members have apparent conflicts of interest in this $527,280,064 debt-collection matter. These four trustees are helping President Wims and the school's other governing officials direct Alabama A&M's actions and inaction regarding the debt at a time when either they, or their family members, are getting money from the state for professional services rendered by them or their family's businesses and, in one case, a salary as a state employee.

Despite their apparent conflicts, these four executive-committee members have been making moves in this debt dispute that have the operative effect of advantaging the state of Alabama at the expense of Alabama A&M.

Is that any way for a university governing board to operate? No, it is not, says Watkins, and he points to Chairman Watts as being at the heart of the matter, attempting to "Faithfully Serve Two "Masters" at the Same Time." Watkins recently wrote an insightful article about Watts, his family business, and its connections to cash flow from the state of Alabama. One day after publishing the Watts story, Watkins received a "cease-and-desist" letter, accusing him of publishing false information and threatening a defamation lawsuit. Hmmm . . . it sounds like somebody's raw nerve got bumped. Does that have anything to do with money? Probably so, Watkins reports:

Public records on Open Alabama Checkbook show that Board Chairman Roderick DeWayne Watts’ family has pocketed more than $21 million from the state of Alabama since he joined the board in 2017. Yet, Watts is chairing the executive committee that is determining whether Alabama A&M will launch a court fight over this $527,280,064, against the same state government that is making his family rich.

As chairman of the board, Watts appointed the other four members of the executive committee, which is the governing arm of the full board of trustees for those periods of time between the regularly scheduled 3-4 board meetings per year.

Thus far, Watts' actions as executive-committee chairman have benefited the state of Alabama and Gov. Ivey, the person who controls the flow of annual multimillion-dollar payments to Enrestoration Inc. -- his family’s health-care business.

Enrestoration's ties to money from both the federal an state government get rather complicated, Watkins reports:

In 2020 and 2021, Enrestoration also pocketed $1,079,600 from the federal government’s COVID-related Payroll Protection Program (PPP). This money was paid to Enrestoration in two annual installments.  The first payment of $539,800 occurred on May 7, 2020, to protect 87 jobs. A second payment of $539,800 occurred on January 26, 2021, to protect 78 jobs. 

Oddly, the same $539,800 that was needed to protect 87 jobs at Enrestoration in May of 2020 was needed again seven months later to protect the reduced number of 78 jobs. We have not been able to reconcile why the same amount of payroll money was needed in 2021 for 9 fewer jobs.

What is more, the federal government forgave $542,511 for Enrestoration’s first PPP loan (which includes accrued interest) on November 9, 2020, and forgave $543,504 for the company's second PPP loan (which includes accrued interest) on October 8, 2021. As a result of this loan forgiveness, Enrestoration effectively pocketed $1,079,600 in free money, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

Interestingly, Enrestoration’s PPP loans and loan forgiveness occurred at a time when the company was pocketing $3,477,880.63 in 2020 and $2,600,353.52 in 2021 from the state of Alabama. 

Over a seven-year period, the Kay Ivey administration approved $21 million in payments of state funds to health-care entity that does not appear to be accredited by any mental-health accrediting agency and that had poor business review ratings.

You see what we mean about conflicts of interest -- and they do not end with Watts, In fact, Watkins writes, "Three Other Executive Committee Members Have Ongoing Financial Ties to the State:

Executive committee member Tiffany Johnson Cole, who joined the board of trustees in 2018, has received legal-fee payments from the state of Alabama for each year she has been on the board of trustees. Between October and December 12, 2023, alone, Johnson received four payments from the state totaling $3,465.

Committee member Kevin Ball is a member of a prominent South Alabama family that owns and operates a chain of health-care facilities in Alabama.  Ball works for his family's business. I featured Ball in an October 25, 2023, article titled, “Federal Judge: Alabama A&M Trustee Kevin Ball’s Comments to Female Employee Were Not Appropriate.”  The Ball family business has pocketed money from the state of Alabama in four of the past five years. The last reported payment to “Ball Healthcare-Jefferson Inc.” was made on May 11, 2023.

Committee member Scherrie Banks Pickett is an Alabama State Department of Education employee who receives a regular annual salary from the state.

Trustee Richard Crunkleton is the only executive-committee member who does not appear to receive any money from the state as a vendor or employee.

A&M's trustees seem to ignore their conflicts, but is that OK? No, it isn't, Watkins writes:

Once Gov. Ivey disputed Alabama A&M’s entitlement to the $527,280,064, trustees Watts, Cole, Ball, and Pickett had an affirmative duty to: (a) refrain from participating in any discussions with board members about this disputed debt, and (b) recuse themselves from taking part in any actions/inaction recommended by President Wims, by non-conflicted trustees, and/or by university attorneys regarding this matter.  This, they failed to do.

Instead, these conflicted trustees authorized Alabama A&M's new group of lawyers to threaten inquiring journalists for the purpose of silencing our reporting and editorial voices in this matter. 

Meanwhile, the actions of Chairman Watts’ executive committee regarding this $527,280,064 debt remain shrouded in secrecy.

The university's silence and the executive committee’s secrecy have caused a floodgate of suspicions and raised a host of red-flags about Alabama A&M efforts, if any, to collect its $527,280,064 debt from the state.

Watkins has described the situation at Alabama A&M as a "hot mess." It does not appear to be getting any cooler. He writes:

Whenever we follow the money in a situation where a traditionally underfunded HBCU is not aggressively seeking to collect a $527,280,064 debt owed to it by a solvent debtor like the state of Alabama, either money has usually changed hands or a paralyzing fear has gripped the university's decision-makers. Nothing else makes sense.

What makes Alabama A&M's subservient attitude and deferential conduct so concerning in this case is this simple fact: The university's badge of inferiority manifested itself within three months after the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged on June 8, 2023, in Mulligan v. Allen that, “Alabama’s extensive history of repugnant racial and voting-related discrimination is undeniable and well documented.”

Against this backdrop, the executive committee’s shroud of secrecy on Alabama A&M's efforts to collect the $527,280,064 debt smells worse than an opened barrel of one week-old dead alley rats.

The U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. needs to conduct a full and thorough investigation into this entire matter. There are too many red-flags in this case for an inquiring public that has been intentionally kept in the dark by Alabama A&M.

There is much more coming your way on this sad story after the Christmas holidays. Stay tuned!