By Gabriel Tynes
After an emergency hearing last week, Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Clark Stankoski denied a writ of mandamus against Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack, one which sought to compel his enforcement of the statewide “Safer at Home” order issued by Gov. Kay Ivey April 28.
The writ resulted from a Facebook video Mack posted May 4 declaring that he “will not take any law enforcement action” against businesses or religious institutions that acted in defiance of the order, but would simply “notify them” the order was in place, and leave it to other regulatory agencies such as the Alabama Department of Public Health to enforce.
Last Wednesday, Baldwin County consumer advocate Paul Ripp — who has a history of taking legal action against municipal authorities in efforts to enact change — filed the writ, calling Mack’s statement a “dereliction of duties” and claiming it would create a “public health crisis.” In a complaint written by attorney Harry Still, Ripp claimed “this creates an emergency situation that the petitioner has a clear right to have enforced in Baldwin County. This appears to be political activity against an unpopular order and the petitioner has the same rights as any other citizen in Alabama to have this legally adopted order enforced.”
In Mack’s answer to the complaint, he claimed Ripp failed to meet the burdens necessary for Stankoski to issue the writ. Further, it states Mack “is vested with wide discretion in the execution of the duties of his office. Thus, any statement made by the Respondent regarding the anticipated methods, means, strategies or type of enforcement of any law are within [his] authority and discretion.”
“Such statements, standing alone, can never give rise to any writ of mandamus for failure to act or dereliction of duty,” the answer concluded, signed by attorney Randall Hillman.
According to parties privy to the emergency hearing, Mack claimed the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) has only responded to a handful of informal complaints concerning alleged violations of the health order, but determined all of the complaints were unfounded. Mack further testified that his decision not to conduct custodial arrests was a “collective policy” shared with other local law enforcement agencies, one reached after consulting with the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Alabama, the Alabama Office of the Attorney General, and the 12 chiefs of police for local departments in Baldwin County.
But at the same time, Mack said Attorney General Steve Marshall did not know about his plan before he announced it.
In his own testimony, Ripp defended the motion, stating that although he had no specific evidence Mack’s order created a public health crisis, both he and his wife have underlying health conditions which make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Attorney Still pointed to guidance from the attorney general’s office advising law enforcement agencies that they “are authorized” to issue misdemeanor citations and act “as needed” to enforce state health orders.
Stankoski allegedly upheld Hillman’s objection regarding a potential conflict of interest or political interest on Mack’s behalf, regarding the sheriff’s ownership of Mack Funeral Home and a commercial real estate business in Robertsdale.
Stankoski told the parties on the teleconference he would elaborate on his decision to deny the writ in a subsequent filing, but shortly after the hearing concluded, issued an order simply stating the plaintiff “failed to present any evidence of a justifiable controversy for the Court to decide. Any statement made by Sheriff Mack, standing alone, does not rise to the level of proof necessary for the Petitioner to prevail on his claims.”
The mother of Derick Powe, who was fatally shot by DPD officers, is seeking more information from Baldwin County law enforcement but hasn’t received any answers yet. Witnesses’ accounts of Powe’s actions on the day of the incident align with the limited information disclosed by investigators.
The Ripp Report alleges a pattern of abuse of power, lack of accountability, and transparency within the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO). It highlights instances of deaths and incarceration of innocent individuals that have resulted in major lawsuits against the BCSO. Ripp criticizes the local politicians’ handling of the situation and calls for the removal of Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack, whom is connected to influential groups in the county. Ripp suggests that Baldwin County has become a “police state” due to the perceived actions and control of the BCSO.
The Alabama Supreme Court decision in the case of Lagniappe v. BCSO (Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office) had significant implications for public access to law enforcement records. The court ruled in favor of BCSO, interpreting the investigative privilege statute broadly. As a result, all evidence in the possession of law enforcement agencies, whether created by the agency or received from others, became exempt from citizens’ statutory right to access public records. This decision limited the public’s access to various records, including body cam or surveillance video, 911 transcripts, and autopsy information that are commonly available in other states during investigations.