Moral Low Ground


Report: Police Whistleblowers Claim Dothan, Alabama Cops Planted Drugs, Guns on Innocent Blacks; Superiors Covered Up

Dothan, Alabama District Attorney Doug Valeska is accused of covering up the planting of drugs and guns on illegal black citizens. (WTVY screen grab)

Dothan, Alabama District Attorney Doug Valeska is accused of covering up the planting of drugs and guns on illegal black citizens. (WTVY screen grab)

A group of Dothan, Alabama police officers turned whistleblowers has leaked documents revealing allegations that racist cops planted guns and drugs on innocent black people for decades, and that the offenders were protected by their superiors.

Henry County Report has published documents obtained by the Alabama Justice Project revealing accusations that an internal affairs investigation of alleged drug and weapons planting—including firearms, cocaine and marijuana—by Dothan Police Department officers was covered up by District Attorney Doug Valeska. This shocking pattern of alleged criminal behavior implicates senior Dothan PD, 20th Judicial District and other senior officials, including Valeska.

According to officer reports, as many as 12 Dothan officers were found to have planted drugs and weapons on young black men going back as far as 1996. The whistleblowers claim that nearly 1,000 black lives were affected by the officers’ actions, with many of those lives ruined by wrongful convictions and imprisonment. The officers said young black men with no criminal history were favorite targets of the racist officers, and former chief John White is accused of instructing senior officers to ignore complaints against the offending cops. The accusers believe hundreds of cases have been prosecuted on the basis of planted evidence and that some of those who may have been wrongfully convicted remain locked up behind bars today.

“These convictions were the result of drugs and/or illegal firearms being planted on innocent people,” the whistleblowers wrote in a November letter to Dothan City Commissioner Don Clement. “The victims of this activity were mostly minority members of our community… Even more distressing is the fact that this whole situation was covered up.”

The accused officers were led at the time by Lt. Steve Parrish and Sgt. Andy Hughes. Parrish is currently Dothan police chief, while Hughes has risen to the position of Assistant Director of Homeland Security for the state of Alabama. Many of the other implicated officers have also since been promoted, including Capt. Carlton “Bubba” Ott, who now heads Dothan PD’s criminal investigation division. White is currently a lawyer at the firm Cobb, Boyd, White & Cobb, as well as a professor of criminal justice at Troy State University. The officers are accused of being white supremacists and members of a neo-confederate group that has called for blacks, who they believe have lower IQs than whites, to return to Africa. The group has also reportedly asserted that the US civil rights movement is a Jewish conspiracy.

Parrish vehemently denies the whistleblowers’ allegations.

“An attempt has been made to not only discredit me, but the Dothan Police Department; the 20th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office; and past employees of this agency by accusing members of this agency of criminal activity and others of covering up such activity,” the chief said in a statement reported by Parrish noted that Magrino is the only Dothan officer specifically accused of planting drugs and weapons, and that his case was dealt with appropriately.

“The specific incident [Henry County Report] is illustrating involving a former officer was addressed and handled in accordance with applicable laws and department policy when it occurred back in the late 1990’s,” Parrish stated. “The officer involved in his illustration has not worked at this department since that time. It is also important to note that the accusations against the officer were for the improper storage of evidence and not the ‘planting of evidence.’ To my knowledge, there had never been a single complaint filed against that officer during his entire career for the planting evidence on anyone. There are simply too many outright lies and fabrications in the blog to address individually but… ‘opinion’ has apparently been taken by many as ‘fact.'”

Prominent media outlets, including the Washington Post and Slate, have expressed doubts about the allegations.

“Right now we don’t know what happened in Dothan. Maybe a journalist, or the Department of Justice, will uncover the story, and if it’s anything like the conspiracy Carroll suggests, outrage will be more than justified,” Leon Neyfakh wrote at Slate.  “Until then, we should be on guard against the temptation to play fast and loose with evidence ourselves.”

“At first blush, the documents provided by author Jon Carroll certainly seem damning,” WaPo’s Radley Balko wrote. “But in most cases, the site only provides access to portions of those documents. And though the report claims that several officers have been accused by colleagues of planting drugs, it focuses and provides documentation only for the allegations against one, and the accusations there concern the mishandling of evidence, which could include—but doesn’t necessarily indicate—the planting of evidence on suspects.”

The documents published by Henry County Report do indicate that at least one of the accused officers failed a polygraph examination relating to planted evidence. The Dothan whistleblowers reportedly submitted written complaints about what they called their colleagues’ criminal misconduct since 1998. An internal affairs probe concluded that Michael Magrino—whose polygraph exam reportedly indicated a 99 percent or greater probability of deception, was the arresting officer in 50 cases leading to questionable prosecutions. Internal Affairs Sgt. Keith Gray recommended immediate termination of Magrino, but the investigation was ended and the files were allegedly ordered “buried” by White and Valeska, who still holds the office of district attorney.

In October, the Alabama Ethics Commission ruled that Valeska committed two ethics violations unrelated to any evidence planting cover-up. Valeska was found guilty of using assistant district attorneys to perform campaign and other personal work.

The Dothan police whistleblowers do not wish to be identified out of fear of retaliation, claiming they have received death threats from their fellow officers. Current and former Dothan officers, however, did say they would testify if the Justice Department appoints a special prosecutor from outside the state or if Congress convenes a hearing. The leaked documents have been sent to the Justice Department’s civil rights division for review.


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