It sounds like the plot of a movie: A specialized narcotics team plants contraband on suspects to ensure convictions. But for more than 1,000 Black men in Alabama, it’s real life.
The Alabama Justice Project uncovered documents that reveal that not only did a group of up to a dozen officers in the Dothan (Alabama) Police Department routinely plant drugs and weapons on young Black men, but the district attorney helped cover up the crime. The group’s report, released on Tuesday (December 1), details how the officers systematically targeted Black men for more than a decade. The officers are reportedly members of a Neo-Confederate organization. Chief among their beliefs: Black people have low IQs and should go back to Africa, and the Civil Rights Movement was a “Jewish conspiracy.”
Per the report, the Dothan police started receiving victim reports of planted guns, cocaine and marijuana in 1996. Many of the targeted men had no previous criminal record. The complaints were ignored on the order of the police chief, John White. Two years later, a group of white officers filed a formal complaint about the activity. It took nearly another year of repeated complaints before White turned them over to the Internal Affairs Division (IAD).
More than a dozen officers were investigated and submitted to polygraph tests, most of which were reportedly failed. Though the investigation found that many of the officers should be fired and in some cases prosecuted, it went nowhere when one of the officers asked District Attorney Doug Valeska and then-Sergeant Andy Hughes (who is currently the director of Homeland Security for Alabama) to intervene.
Most of the cases where victims and officers reported misconduct were still prosecuted by the district attorney, and the investigation was never shared with defendants’ counsel. Many of the men went to prison and some of them are still incarcerated. Meanwhile, many of the officers involved are now in leadership positions.
On the condition of anonymity, the officers who originally blew the whistle on the scheme provided the Alabama Justice Project with hundreds of IAD files that document the crimes and the cover up. They are being shared with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, as well as the lawyers of the men who were falsely convicted. They will also be used to support two lawsuits that are currently pending against former Dohan officers for racial discrimination.
From the report:
By coming forward almost a decade later after these letters, this group of officers who witnessed drugs and weapons being planted and had the moral courage to bravely do the right thing are hoping the United States Department of Justice will intervene. The want a specially appointed federal prosecutor, from outside the state of Alabama to hold District Attorney, Doug Valeska, former Chief, John White, current Chief, Steve Parrish, Homeland Security Director, Andy Hughes, and Capt Carleton Ott responsible. But most importantly, attempt to make those hundreds of young black men’s lives whole again who have been victims of the Dothan Police Department. They believe the time for justice has come.
Read the full report—complete with supporting documents—here.