John Caylor has been hiding from the law for almost a week now — hiding because he is wanted for printing the truth.
Caylor is the first victim of Alabama’s unconstitutional expungement law passed two years ago. Now he’s hiding out of state, wanted by the city of Daphne for illegally publishing expunged records and also for contempt of court because he didn’t turn himself in last week. A civil suit has also been filed against him. And if that’s not enough, Caylor also says a U.S. Marshal is hounding him.
If it sounds like a Grisham novel or a bad Mel Gibson-Julia Roberts movie, well, that’s how it’s kind of going down. We’ve been covering this story since Caylor first called in March to let us know he was going to be arrested the next day for doing something every journalist in America has known to be totally legal for hundreds of years — publishing a factual, legal document.
Frankly I had no idea what Caylor was talking about when he said the state had passed a law making it illegal to publish an expunged record. The 2014 law was pushed ostensibly as a way of helping people who had committed youthful indiscretions get that black mark off their records. It sounds pretty innocuous, but the Legislature also slipped in language making it a Class B misdemeanor to publish or otherwise divulge the contents of an expunged record. Criminalizing publication means it can be a $500 fine or even a year in jail. Most journalists in the state were asleep at the wheel when this garbage was signed into law.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long upheld the concept that the government may not engage in prior restraint — i.e., censorship — other than in rare instances where national security might be threatened. But somehow in Alabama that standard is a whole lot lower.
So now Caylor, an investigative reporter who publishes his work at insider-magazine.com, is a wanted man. But this story only starts with a guy being arrested for publishing true materials. It’s gotten thicker and weirder every day.
To say Caylor’s investigations and theories are perhaps a bit “out there” might be an understatement. He writes about vast conspiracies, the Dixie Mafia, hit men, drug trafficking and an underground attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, just to name a few. It’s not light reading.
Whether it’s all fantasy or he might actually have a point or two is not the point. Whether what he writes is the amazing, untold truth or a collection of misguided theories that malign a number of very public people doesn’t make any of it illegal.
In this particular instance, Caylor published the actual 14-year-old arrest record of a local attorney named Scott Smith III. Smith got busted when he was in his early 20s for possessing meth, but was fortunate enough to go through a pretrial drug diversion program and wasn’t convicted of anything. His daddy is a lawyer in Dothan and Smith eventually followed suit, even managing to land a clerk’s position while in law school with U.S. District Court Judge Kristi DuBose. He is currently a clerk with U.S. District Court Judge Ginny Grenade.
Why Caylor believes Smith’s expungement is newsworthy is pretty complex. It involves allegations of family involvement with the Dixie Mafia as well as Judge Granade’s ties with U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, among other things. Caylor even has a picture on his site of what is purported to be Sessions and Smith posing at his law school graduation. Caylor also has some rather wild assertions about Granade, many of which revolve around her ruling in the gay marriage issue, but also some involving an unorthodox land deal in Nashville.
I’ve pulled the records on the deal, and it is a strange one. In 2006, Granade and eight other relatives were the beneficiaries of a 100-year-old land bequeathment that left them splitting $1.3 million, according to news articles and records. The land was donated to a school, but the donor required that it return to her heirs if it was not being used for such, and so it was just before being sold to a hospital. Yes, it’s an unusual windfall, but it also seems legit.
When Caylor showed up for his hearing in Daphne last week, the judge ordered him to take down Smith’s arrest records and another hearing was set for August. Caylor says he worked all night to get them down, but technical difficulties meant they weren’t off the site until mid-morning. By then Smith had already filed charges against him again and City Judge Michael Hoyt issued a bench warrant for Caylor’s arrest. Caylor was ordered to turn himself in the next day, even though Smith’s records were gone from the site.
Caylor also took down his posts related to Granade. He says a U.S. Marshal named Josh Devine had been pressuring him to take down both the Smith and Granade posts. U.S. Marshals work to protect the federal court, among other things. The whole thing spooked Caylor to the point where he decided to go on the lam rather than to jail, where he feared being held indefinitely or killed.
Yeah, it sounds strange, but gets stranger. A couple of days ago Caylor sent us a recording he said was Marshal Devine calling him. For roughly 20 minutes Caylor and the caller, who identified himself as “Josh from the Marshals Service” went back and forth about why he should turn himself in. I find it hard to come away from listening to that without thinking the caller was definitely “leaning” on Caylor hard and really wanted to put him in jail.
If you’re wondering why a U.S. Marshal would busy himself with a misdemeanor violation of a state law, you’re not alone. But the Marshals won’t talk to us. If you think it’s more than coincidental that Smith is a federal court clerk, Granade is a federal judge and a U.S. Marshal was employed as a goon to scare Caylor, you might not be alone either.
Putting this in perspective, Edward Snowden is hiding in Russian and wanted by the U.S. Government for treason, but no one has been arrested for publishing any records he released. John Caylor has been arrested once and is a wanted man for publishing some attorney’s meth arrest record. Hardly national security.
I’m not defending everything John Caylor writes about, but I will defend his right to do so. This is a great example of how things go when the government is allowed to decide what we can and cannot say, and also a fine reason for this ridiculous, unconstitutional law to be changed.