City drops nuisance charge against Little; councilman demands $2 million for himself and church
by Cameron Steele
csteele@annistonstar.com
Jun 19, 2012 | 5935 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston City Councilman Ben Little today demanded more than $2 million for himself and his church from the city government, claiming that officials had damaged him and the church by arresting Little on nuisance property charges. (Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Anniston City Councilman Ben Little today demanded more than $2 million for himself and his church from the city government, claiming that officials had damaged him and the church by arresting Little on nuisance property charges. (Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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The city of Anniston has dropped a nuisance property charge against Councilman Benjamin Little, who held a press conference today to decry what he called the maliciousness that started the case and to ask the city to pay more than $2 million for alleged damage done to his reputation and the image of his church.

The city decided against prosecuting the property code case on April 11, according to copies of court documents that Little gave to local media at the conference. City prosecutor Ted Copland said the case was dismissed after Little cleaned up the East 23rd Street properties owned by his church and boarded up the vacant duplexes there.

“It is my understanding they complied with the city ordinance by making the property safer,” said Copland, who did not oversee the case himself. “Typically, if a person does those things, then the charges are dismissed.”

Anniston police arrested Little on Dec. 14, 2011, and charged him with failing to maintain several vacant duplexes in the 400 block of East 23rd Street. Refuge Full Gospel Methodist Church, where Little serves as pastor, assumed ownership of those properties – and the responsibility of keeping them in compliance with city standards – a year ago when former owner William Barnwell donated them to the congregation.

On April 9 and 10, in response to Little’s arrest and the ensuing case, Little and the church filed separate letters with the city, asking for $1 million and $750,000 respectively, claiming that Little's civil rights were violated, and that he and the church were both cast in a negative light.

The decision not to prosecute the case didn’t change Little’s rhetoric during the conference today. He threatened to sue individual police officers and city officials if the city did not pay the $1.75 million in claims – plus another $300,000 in damages for continuing to act with malice toward him when Anniston police delivered a second property code citation to him on the same day the case was dropped.

“My record is tarnished now: I have an arrest record for no reason whatsoever,” Little said to the handful of people and media representatives gathered outside Refuge Full Gospel. “And there have been no apologies.”

But Alabama law prevents the city from shelling out that much money, even if Little was able to win monetary damages through a civil suit, Copland said. Section 11-47-190 caps the amount of money any one person can collect from a municipality at $100,000.

Little said today that he filed the last $300,000 claim because he felt the second citation he received from Anniston police was evidence the department was a paramilitary force and that it was trying to bully him.

But Copland identified the second citation as more of a language correction than anything else. The wording on the original citation needed to be changed to reflect the individual properties that had been called into question. But officials couldn’t make the change to the first citation, Copland said, because Little had refused to sign it. So they issued a second citation and asked Little to sign that as a matter of procedure, the city prosecutor said, but the councilman refused to sign that one, too.

Little is adamant the entire case is an attempt to discredit him before the municipal elections in August; he is running for re-election to his Ward 3 seat.

If the city doesn’t settle the millions of dollars in claims he and the church have made, Little said he will file suits against individuals.

“I know people will be saying, ‘there he goes with another lawsuit,’” Little said. “And yes, there I go with another lawsuit.”

Contact Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.

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