In a 3-2 vote, the Anniston City Council on Tuesday rejected one council member’s motion to request a federal investigation into the Anniston Police Department.
Councilman Ben Little says he’ll take his request to Washington anyway.
“If everything is OK, then everybody should welcome an investigation,” Little said.
Little first raised the issue of a federal probe at a City Council work session two weeks ago — before the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd in police custody and the nationwide protests that followed. At the time, his push for the federal probe seemed to center on the resurfacing of a years-old Facebook post by a former Anniston police officer.
In the post, the former officer wrote “good riddance” to an “infamous” local resident, recently deceased, whom the officer had apparently arrested in the past. The post is dated 1998 — long before Facebook existed — and city officials say the former officer likely posted the message in 2010. That officer left Anniston’s police force in 2002, city officials say.
The officer who made the post died in 2012, according to the Anniston Star’s archives. But his Facebook page lives, and it has generated angry and hurt comments from multiple Facebook users in the past two weeks.
Little said the posts were just one sign of bias and wrongdoing within the police department. But others on the council said he simply hadn’t given them enough evidence to call for a federal investigation.
“I need some more information,” said Councilwoman Millie Harris. She said the actions of one person — now deceased, and not a member of the police force when he made the Facebook post — simply weren’t enough.
Little said local residents have repeatedly brought complaints about police to the council, and he said he knew of an inappropriate incident involving police two weeks ago — though he declined to offer details, saying the mother of the resident involved in the incident hadn’t granted him permission to talk.
“I still want an investigation into the Doggrell thing,” said Councilman David Reddick.
The police department in 2015 dismissed former police Lt. Josh Doggrell after he gave a speech to a convention of the League of the South, a secessionist group.
“I think it’s important to consider at this time that the public is watching,” Reddick said of the federal investigation vote.
Mayor Jack Draper said the current police department is much more diverse than it was at the time of the Facebook post or the League of the South incident.
“I don’t think this rises to the level of requiring either a federal or a state investigation,” he said.
Reddick and Little cast the two votes in favor of the investigation request.
Starting a federal probe into a police department could prove difficult no matter who makes the request. According to CNN, the Department of Justice launched 12 broad investigations of practices by police departments during the George W. Bush administration, during the Obama administration and one during Donald Trump’s term as president.
Council members also rejected 3-2 a motion to defund the city’s drug task force pending personnel changes at the task force.
In other business, the council voted to ask the federal government for $4.4 million in federal coronavirus stimulus money to add turn lanes on US 78 between Werner Drive and National Drive, to help with traffic at the industrial park that includes bus manufacturer New Flyer.
The money, if granted, would require a local match of $880,552. City planner Toby Bennington said the local Economic Development Council was seeking help from Oxford and Calhoun County’s government to pick up part of that cost. Reddick expressed skepticism of the plan, saying it would leave the city “on the hook” for $880,000 if the other governments don’t join. Draper said Tuesday’s vote would still allow the city to back out of the grant if needed.
“We don’t have to ultimately accept the grant,” Draper said.
The council voted unanimously to approve new stop signs for various intersections, including:
• A three-way stop at Draper Avenue and Maple Street
• A four-way stop at Goodwin Avenue and 6th Street
• A four-way stop at Shipley Road and Foxley Road
• A four-way stop at Shipley Road and Morton Road.
The council postponed a vote on proposed speed limit changes for various streets, because council members wanted to add new streets to the proposal.