Two Anniston councilmen have questioned in recent public meetings the credibility of a member of the city’s Police Citizen Advisory Committee, arguing that he may not be operating fairly as a member of that group.
Councilmen Ben Little and David Reddick have both claimed in recent City Council meetings that Tim Brunson, a council-appointed member of a city-created advisory committee that aims to improve relations between residents and the Police Department, has abused his position to learn confidential information and used it to criticize both councilmen. Brunson said Thursday that his connection to the Police Department has afforded him no private information.
Brunson, 63, writes lengthy, public Facebook posts on various city matters, some of which include accusations that Little and Reddick have illegally overspent their travel budgets, inappropriately spent city money and been poor city leaders. He was a fixture at City Council meetings out of apparent personal interest, though he stopped attending as recently as the June 4 meeting. He became a topic of discussion for Little and Reddick in that same meeting.
Little complained that evening about Brunson “running his mouth on Facebook” while serving on the advisory board. Little said he believed Brunson’s Facebook posts are a liability for the city — if Little himself decides to sue.
“I’m going to file some federal stuff on him,” Little said at the meeting.
Reddick claimed that night that Brunson had used his position on the committee to post commentary about a court case involving Glen Ray, president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
Ray said by phone Thursday that he had been pulled over in October by an Anniston police officer for an alleged failure to signal a turn on Glen Addie Avenue.
Ray appeared in the June 18 City Council work session as Little’s guest speaker, and he complained at length about Brunson and his writing.
“Late last night a trusted law enforcement source informed me that Anniston NAACP President Glen Ray Sr was found guilty yesterday in Anniston’s Municipal Court for failure to present proof of insurance when stopped for a minor traffic infraction (for which he was not ticketed),” Brunson wrote.
Brunson said Wednesday that while he received information from an employee of the Police Department, the information wasn’t provided as part of his role on the advisory board. He said that the information wasn’t confidential.
Court rulings and documents are accessible through paid services like alacourt.gov, which make court information available to the public. The results of a court case like Ray’s would not necessarily be sealed, and a search of alacourt.com showed that the records from his case are available for purchase, like most court documents in the state.
“Also, a rumor is floating around saying that Glen actually had proof of insurance when he was stopped but refused to present it just so that he would be cited and would ‘get his day in court,’” Brunson wrote, shortly after his summary of the case.
A commenter on the post asked Brunson why he was writing about the matter at all. Brunson said he believed “there are people who are actively and intentionally hurting the people of this city,” and said that “a better question is why you are not speaking up.”
“If you are not willing to stand up for justice, then that is your personal choice,” Brunson wrote. “If I have the skills and ability to help, I will not sit on the sidelines while my brothers and sisters suffer.”
Little said by phone Wednesday that he believes Brunson’s commentary has elevated him to the status of a public figure.
“He’s launching into our world. Since he’s there now, he’s really entered the political arena and he’s fair game,” Little said. “We can talk about him, too.”
‘Peace and harmony’
David Baker, former leader of the Anniston NAACP and the current vice chairman of the Anniston Police Citizen Advisory Committee, said Wednesday that the purpose of the organization is to “bring peace and harmony into the city.”
The organization was created by city ordinance in 2014 to operate as a go-between for police and residents. If someone felt that they had been treated wrongly by police, he said, or had questions about police conduct or policy, that resident could go to the advisory board. The board would then investigate or otherwise help satisfy concerns.
“We don’t make decisions, but we bring it to a conclusion,” Baker said. “We resolve problems but don’t take too much of a side on the issue.”
The city ordinance creating the committee says that the body will “serve in an advisory capacity” to the Police Department, on issues like police services, various training, including diversity training, and other “department actions, philosophies, behaviors and practices that contribute to community grievances or complaints.”
A total of seven people are on the board, including one appointed by each member of the City Council, including the mayor, and two appointed by the chief of police. Each appointment is four years long, after the initial appointments in 2014, which were of varied lengths, expired.
Anniston police Chief Shane Denham said Wednesday that the board meets about once per quarter, unless an issue requires immediate attention. He said the flow of information doesn’t start with the police. The committee will receive a concern from a resident and then approach the police department for resolution.
“They don’t have access to any sensitive police information or anything I am not willing to release,” Denham said.
Denham said that a typical function of the board might be the review of body camera footage from a police officer during an arrest to confirm that the officer followed proper procedure, which he said has happened before. He said on one occasion, a shot was fired during an arrest and complaints were filed. The department reached out to the committee to explain what happened.
“In case someone in the community heard about it and had questions, they would have the full, complete story,” Denham said.
Denham said he only knew of one other complaint against a board member, which happened last year and also involved Ray. Baker called in to Ray’s Sunday morning talk show to debate with Ray about the outcome of a 2016 arrest in which the committee reviewed body camera footage and decided that police officers had acted appropriately.
Nothing ever came of the complaint against Baker, Denham wrote in an email Thursday afternoon.
For his part, Baker seemed unimpressed with the accusation against Brunson.
“They have a problem with everybody,” Baker said. “Ben Little and David Reddick have to got to stop it. They’re not elected to sit around and criticize the citizens of this community without any facts behind it.”
A Disney experience
Neither councilman is convinced that Brunson isn’t receiving confidential information through his relationship with the Police Department, both said Wednesday.
Reddick said that he thought it was a moot point, even if it were proven false that Brunson was being leaked privileged information.
“How can a David Reddick or Ben Little supporter, if they have a problem with the police — maybe they got pulled over, maybe their son got shot, from one end to the other — you need a place to go to where you feel like you’ll be heard,” Reddick said.
He further criticized Brunson as a source of information for the public, and claimed that Brunson presents himself as a legitimate journalist while reporting information Reddick doesn’t believe is supported by facts. He said, instead, that Brunson’s positions are informed by feelings on race.
“He’s anti-anybody black,” Reddick claimed.
Brunson flatly denied the accusation, noting that his son is in a mixed-race relationship, and that he expects his grandchildren will be mixed-race, as well.
“I wouldn’t tell my grandchildren they’re dishonest because they have mixed race,” Brunson said.
Also on May 23, about two weeks before the June 4 council meeting where Brunson became a regular topic of city discussion, he posted allegations that Reddick had overspent his travel budget by about $2,000. Part of Reddick’s expenses included a January trip to a National Haitian American Elected Officials Network conference in Orlando that cost $1,368, according to Brunson, who said he got that information from a public records request from the city.
The itinerary for the three-day, weekend conference included a “Disney experience,” and Brunson characterized the trip as a “a taxpayer paid boondoggle to Disney World” in the post.
“It appears that David found a conference that he could use as cover for his trip,” Brunson said.
Reddick provided The Star a copy of the agenda, which included meetings and dinners for networking, workshops for discussion of the 2020 U.S. census and community government, and on Sunday — from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. — a “Disney Experience,” with a half-hour lunch.
Reddick explained that Walt Disney World is in the district of an Orlando city councilwoman and member of the Haitian elected officials group, who took conference-goers to the park at no charge.
On Wednesday, in spite of being asked repeatedly, Brunson offered no explanation for how he came to the conclusion that Reddick had taken a vacation to Disney World, rather than attended a legitimate conference.
Brunson replied that he was asking the questions no one else was asking.
The photo of Reddick at the conference, which is available on the Haitian-American group’s website — where a full agenda for the January conference is also available — also accompanies Brunson’s post. The statement “$1,368 Disney World vacation paid for by Anniston taxpayers” appears in yellow text, a red arrow pointing at Reddick’s head.
Both Reddick and Little have overspent their travel budgets in the past, and city officials have often bickered over that spending, but the only official action taken was to censure Little in November.
Reddick also noted that he was referred to as a “mulatto” in Brunson’s post, in which Brunson mulled over Reddick’s possible racial background.
Little said that the term could be considered offensive.
“David made it look like an issue but it’s not,” Brunson said Wednesday. “I was giving David the benefit of the doubt that one of his parents is Haitian, but no one has been able to establish that. Why was he there in the first place?”
Brunson said he had heard the term directly from Reddick and believed at the time it was the correct terminology for a person of mixed race. A comment on his post noted that the word could be offensive, which Brunson appeared to take note of.
“I was not using it in a derogatory way and will refrain from using it if it causes unintended offense,” Brunson replied.
Reddick said he wants Brunson to resign from the advisory committee. Little agreed.
“I think he has a right for freedom of speech, but I don’t think he has the right to be on that board,” Little said.