Police Abuse

Small Alabama Town Hired Cops, Judge, Prosecutor, Set Up Speed/Asset Forfeiture Trap

Motorists have found alternate routes, and now the townspeople may lose their police force.


Jimmy Wayne/flickr

The mayor of Castleberry, Alabama, told residents at a recent town hall meeting their three-officer police department may have to shut down because of a steep drop in traffic ticket revenue.

Mayor Henry Kirksey blamed the drop in revenue on the bad publicity from coverage of a seven-plaintiff lawsuit alleging officers in the town of 550 people set up speed traps and made other spurious stops, charging $500 to recover impounded automobiles if drugs were present and using the state's asset forfeiture law to confiscate cash and belongings when available, as an October article in Al.com reported.

J.B. Jackson, the mayor whose idea of stops and confiscation paid for the department, a municipal court judge and a prosecutor, was ousted in an election last year. His former police chief, Tracy Hawsey, resigned in February after the suit was filed.

Route 31, a local connecting route for I-65 between Mobile and Montgomery, cuts through Castleberry.

Richard Nix, lead attorney on the lawsuit, estimates more than 100 people may have been ensnared. Nix says the belongings and the alleged drugs seized in his plaintiffs' cases have not been accounted for. His clients claim $5,500 in cash was taken from them, and Nix insists Hawsey did not follow the minimal procedural requirements in place for asset forfeiture, like explaining to the county attorney why you're seizing cash and property.

One plaintiff said Castleberry police in military-style camo pulled him over as he was pulling out of a driveway last October, impounding his car and seizing $1,750. According to the lawsuit and court documents reviewed by Al.com, he wasn't so much as charged with a traffic offense.

Another plaintiff alleges police confiscated $3,800 from her vehicle, claiming they were "proceeds from an illegal drug dealing or activity," in June 2016, but did not file a civil forfeiture request. Her car remains impounded.

Jackson and Hawsey set up the department in 2009. "We didn't have much so Hawsey come to me and said 'There is a lot of crime in this town and a lot of drugs coming through this town,'" Jackson told AL.com. "So he said why don't we set up a court system to get some money coming in."

At one point Castleberry had 5 police officers—more than 5 times the national per capita average. "We hired our own DA and own judge," Jackson continued. "The revenues started to grow and we built out the police department."

Nix said Hawsey, gloated on Facebook about what was happening. According to Nix, he posted photos of people he had arrested as well as videos purportedly showing him joking around and discussing the arrests.

The brazenness makes Jackson and Hawsey's effort (Jackson doesn't deny the department set up speed traps to generate revenue) a perfect example of "policing for profit"—how municipalities turn police departments into revenue generators rather than agencies intended to improve public safety. Alabama law permits police departments to keep 100 percent of the proceeds of asset forfeiture and has no reporting requirement.

When word of the lawsuit got around, people began avoiding Castleberry, which brought on a fiscal crisis. The town found itself with $60,000 in unpaid bills and a "six figure debt," Kirksey said.

"One thing he told me," Kirksey said of the current Police Chief Troy Stalley, "was that it was pretty easy to write 10-20 tickets a day, but once the publicity come out in the newspaper he told me sometimes it's hard to get five a day."

Stalley denies his department has any speed traps any more. "There are between 10 to 20 traffic stops a day, if that many," Stalley told the Brewton Standard. "When you look at the math, that's less than 1 percent." He also insisted the town now only gets $12 per speeding ticket.

Which explains why Kirksey wants to give up on the police department. Residents are split about whether or not to keep it going. At the town hall meeting, the council voted 3-2 to keep running the department on a "limited basis."

Kirksey didn't hide his opinion of the council's decision. "We cannot go on like this," he said, "and if y'all want to bankrupt the city by continuing to have a police department that's fine by me."

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  1. “There are between 10 to 20 traffic stops a day, if that many,” Stalley told the Brewton Standard. “When you look at the math, that’s less than 1 percent.”

    Less than 1 percent of what? The daily fundraising quota?

    1. Less than 1 percent of what?

      When you look at the math, 10 = (.01)x => x = 1000. So 10 to 20 is less than 1 percent of 1001 to 2001 traffic stops a day.

      1. Yes. I did that in my head in less than 1 percent of a minute.

  2. Insert Mathew McConaughey saying, “Those are rookie numbers!”

  3. How dare people avoid the town! Don’t they understand that confiscations are the price we pay for a civilized society?

    1. Yes, look how far we’ve come since medieval times.

      On second thought . . .

  4. Karma is nice.

  5. “When word of the lawsuit got around, people began avoiding Castleberry, which brought on a fiscal crisis.”

    The invisible hand of the market strikes.

    1. A lot of people are unaware of the invisible hand until they cause it to become a visible fist.

      1. Dunno, apparently these folks never saw it coming.

      2. Good one! Most are unaware that Adam Smith from the Monarchy spoke of a second hand, the unproductive hand, and described it as the cause of the ruin of nations. That one was clearly the fist in 1775 and many struggle to evade the knowledge even today.

    2. Laffer’s Curve got really bent this time. Pretty funny, in a way. They thought they’d cash in on the ol Gravy Train, but it seems like the train dun wrecked……

      1. The Great Gravy rain Robbery! It’s got a good beat, easy to dance to… I give it a 73.

  6. They should have disbanded the town, create a private corporation, and then have them charge everyone for using their roads.

    Its the Libertarian way.

    1. Somalia, Alabama has a nice ring to it.

    2. Even in libertopia one can’t just erase Right of Way on a whim.

    3. If only you could charge the officers of the City with racketeering. Its all well and good that this has stopped, but it hasn’t made those wronged whole.

  7. Only libertarians that prominently spout their positions should be exempt from government thuggery

  8. The mayor of Castleberry, Alabama, told residents at a recent town hall meeting their three-officer police department may have to shut down because of a steep drop in traffic ticket revenue.

    I love this direct admission that police are simply the revenue generating arm of local government. And then they wonder why people don’t like the police.

  9. An American town with no cops? I’m moving.

    With Amazon it hardly matters if it’s little more than a cul-de-sac.

  10. Why don’t they just set up Murdersville?Little Storping in the Swuff?as on The Avengers?

  11. Route 31, a local connecting route for I-65 between Mobile and Montgomery, cuts through Castleberry.

    I think you mean between Pensacola & Montgomery.

  12. I love watching speed trap towns starve to death.

  13. Some of the money confiscated by the police is missing?

    No fucking way.

    Those heroes would take a bullet for the least of us. They certainly wouldn’t steal anything…this has to be fake news.

    1. For or from?

  14. The officials responsible for this racket should lose their jobs and maybe face jail time.

    The state should disband the town as a governmental entity, transferring law enforcement and other duties to the county. Google for “New Rome, Ohio” to see a similar case.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    1. This is where you decide whether to give $35 to a vague, unprincipled, “non-partisan” single-issue lobby or the solid platform proposals of a Libertarian party looter politicians struggle to evade at their peril. Observe that the lobbyist response is an empty threat to try to bring the racketeers to justice. But we know that any government thug can commit murder one on video and be invariably freed by mock trial. The real solution is absolute repeal of all Comstock Law censorship, looting and asset forfeiture provisions in the entire penal code. Libertarian spoiler votes make that a top priority for every looter politician worried about losing his seat to another looter politician just as venal and dishonest.

    2. Yes, the “New Rome, Ohio” story is one of the far too few stories of these dreadful little towns getting a huge dose of justice.

      One other success is Waldo, Florida: While the entire city didn’t go away, at least they disbanded their thug-like police department.

      The common denominator in these cases is a small town-village gets a case of the “by God, we’re gonna’ have law and order around here” virus and puts together a department they don’t need. Sensible people would simply contract with the county sheriff for x-number of patrols per day.

      Another place to keep an eye on is Piperton, Tennessee: An awful little place of about 1500 people that does not need the police department they put together. They had some hot-shot mayor?mayor Bucky or some such mindless moniker indicating an ignorant hick?that his first hire for a “police chief” was a convicted felon.

      Stay away from Piperton, Tennessee.

  15. So essentially, the “justice system” of Castleberry, AL is a shell for nothing more than a racket.

  16. 550 people. Alabama. They have guns

    What do they need the cops for?

    1. Besides possessing an inclination toward servility? They need intermediaries to deal/fuck with their neighbors because they’re too fat, lazy or cowardly to do it themselves. Some of them just like stirring the pot and tattling at every opportunity. Every town in America has these kinds of folks; it’s extremely prevalent in the South. It’s a psychological safety blanket of ‘order’ and ‘justice’ which they crave. It’s one area where I do actually feel some sympathy with the police (until I read the Daily Brickbat !)

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