Mobile County 911 Director Charlie McNichol was arrested for public intoxication last week, but despite being found behind the wheel of his county-issued vehicle he was not charged with DUI.
Spanish Fort Police Chief David Edgar previously told Lagniappe McNichol’s vehicle — a gray Chevrolet SUV with a municipal tag — was spotted at the intersection of highways 98 and 31 in an area known locally as “the top of the hill” around 12:35 a.m., Oct. 12.
When asked if the arresting officer had pulled McNichol’s vehicle over from the roadway, Edgar said: “It is my understanding that the vehicle was already stopped.” He gave no indication as to why McNichol would have been on the side of the road otherwise.
According to Edgar, the arrest report doesn’t mention any passengers and, though it wasn’t specifically stated, Edgar said he believes McNichol was in the driver’s seat. Records indicate McNichol was taken to the Daphne Jail after his arrest and released on a $400 bond.
At this point, it’s unclear whether McNichol was subjected to a sobriety test, which could have factored into why he wasn’t charged with DUI, if he was in fact driving under the influence. In Alabama, a person commits the crime of “driving under the influence of alcohol” if they are found driving or “in actual physical control of any vehicle” with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or greater.
While there is no set standard for what defines being “in actual physical control” of a car, police in Alabama can and have successfully charged motorists with DUI in cases when they did not witness the person actually operating a vehicle.
To file a charge of public intoxication, however, an officer does not have to administer a sobriety test. The state code defines the offense as appearing to be “under the influence of alcohol, narcotics or other drugs to the degree that he endangers himself or another person or property” or by exhibiting “boisterous and offensive conduct that annoys another person in his vicinity.”
When asked why McNichol wasn’t charged with DUI, Edgar said the arresting officer would have had discretion over which charge was more appropriate for the situation.
“They’re faced with discretion on when to make an arrest and when not to, as well as what the proper charges should be,” Edgar said. “You have to prove [those charges], and some charges are easier to prove than others.”
Reached by email, McNichol told Lagniappe he was “embarrassed” by the incident and added he met with 911 Board President Steve Bowden about it Oct. 12.
“This was a mistake that I made. I make no excuse for my poor judgment,” McNichol said. “I have had some life stressors with health issues recently, and I obviously did not handle this well. I will seek assistance and work through this terrible event.”
McNichol is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 15. Per Spanish Fort’s policy, Edgar said the department would release body and dash camera footage of McNichol’s arrest after his criminal charge is resolved.
As for his position with the Mobile County Communications District, the board seems interested in keeping him around. In an email to Lagniappe, Bowden said the board planned to meet sometime soon and go over the facts, but as of now would be supporting “Charlie and won’t take any action.”
“He’s been a great asset to the 911 center, and we hope to resolve this issue in his favor,” Bowden said, before directing further questions to 911 Board member Robert Adams.
Adams, who specializes in conflict resolution, confirmed McNichol was in his county-issued vehicle at the time he was arrested. Adams said McNichol wasn’t driving it at the time but instead “pulled over and fell asleep.” Like Bowden, Adams also seemed to suggest McNichol’s job was secure at the 911 center for now.
“Mr. McNichol is a very principled individual who we hold in high regard,” Adams said Tuesday. “This was an off-duty incident, and at this time there’s no action being taken. We don’t see the need for it, and two, we’ll wait for our regularly scheduled meeting to give further information.”
McNichol, who has a background in law enforcement, has previously served as the assistant chief of the Daphne Police Department and as a law enforcement coordinator for the Southern District of Alabama under former U.S. Attorney David York.
However, in 2007 McNichol was forced to resigned from his position in York’s office after he was accused of leaking details of an ongoing corruption probe in South Baldwin County that ultimately led to the indictment of former Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo and others.
A special prosecutor was brought in from Pensacola to oversee the charges, and facts brought out in the investigation showed McNichol leaked details of the probe to “a friend,” including advance noticed of a scheduled news conference announcing a planned indictment.
McNichol pleaded guilty to one count of theft of public property. He was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation, fined $25 and agreed to resign from his position in the U.S. attorney’s office as part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
McNichol spent a brief period in the private sector, working for DRC Group Inc. in Louisiana before he became the assistant director at the 911 center in 2013. He accepted his current position in 2016 following a tumultuous few years that ended with the unceremonious ousting of McNichol’s predecessor, former State Rep. Garry Tanner. Adams said McNichol has instituted some “successful” administrative changes at the center.
“He’s made some money-saving changes,” Adams said. “There were some issues with the previous director, which we’ll leave at that, and he’s helped clean those up. Now we’re building an additional building, and we’re very pleased with his work. He’s working out well.”
As director, McNichol’s starting salary was just over $100,000, though he has since been given at least one raise. Before he was fired, Tanner was making in excess of $126,000.
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