Photo | Lagniappe
After months of delays in municipal court, Mobile County 911 Director Charlie McNichol has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor public intoxication charge he was arrested for in Spanish Fort last fall.
As Lagniappe has reported, McNichol’s vehicle — a gray Chevrolet SUV owned by the 911 Board — 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, 2018. McNichol was in the driver’s seat at the time, though he’s previously maintained that he was asleep, not driving, when approached by Spanish Fort police that night.
A public intoxication charge, especially one someone is admitting to, can usually be handled relatively quickly, but McNichol’s case was delayed for months. That’s at least partially because, as is typical in most small cities, Spanish Fort only holds municipal court once a month at its community center.
The case was originally scheduled to be handled as early as May, but it was delayed after continuances were granted on multiple occasions — some just hours before a scheduled hearing. In court last month, Court Clerk Twila Pierce told Lagniappe no more continuances would be granted in the case.
McNichol did appear in court Thursday, Sept. 26, where he pleaded guilty to public intoxication.
Judge Derek Rose ordered McNichol to pay court costs and attend a Level II DUI class, something McNichol said he had done preemptively. Level II classes are longer and typically designed for repeat DUI offenders, but court records don’t show any DUI-related incidents in McNichol’s past.
Though McNichol has run into legal trouble in the past despite his background in law enforcement. A former assistant chief with the Daphne Police Department, McNichol also previously served as a law enforcement coordinator for former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama David York.
In 2007, McNichol was accused of leaking details of an active corruption probe to “a friend.” He pleaded guilty to one count of theft of public property and was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation and agreed to resign from his position in the U.S. Attorney’s office as part of a plea deal.
After his case was heard in Spanish Fort Municipal Court last week, McNichol declined to speak in detail, though he did say the ordeal had been a “difficult process” for him. He previously told reporters he was embarrassed by the arrest, but his employer — the 911 Board — has continued to stand by him.
“I accepted responsibility when this happened, and I accept responsibility for it now,” McNichol told Lagniappe.“Now the court system is handling it, and I’ll follow whatever their decision is.”
McNichol was represented by Jay Ross, who is Mobile County’s primary attorney. Despite its name, though, the Mobile County Communications District that McNichol oversees isn’t a county agency and Ross doesn’t represent its interests. He said he handled McNichol’s case as a favor to a “longtime friend.”
According to Ross, an agreement was reached with Spanish Fort prosecutor Karol Kemp to delay the adjudication of McNichol’s case for six months. If McNichol does get into any legal trouble between now and March, his public intoxication charge will be nolle prossed — meaning it will essentially be dismissed.
Given the circumstances, many have questioned why McNichol wasn’t charged with driving under the influence of alcohol during his 2018 arrest. At the time, Spanish Fort Police Chief David Edgar said the arresting officer would have had discretion over which charge was more appropriate for the situation.
In Alabama, a person commits the crime of “driving under the influence of alcohol” if they are found driving or in “physical control of any vehicle” with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater.
While there’s no set standard for what defines “in actual physical control,” police in Alabama can and have charged motorists with a DUI even when they did not witness that person actually operating a vehicle.
To file a charge of public intoxication, though, 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.”
Edgar previously said the Spanish Fort Police Department couldn’t release any body and dash-camera footage captured during the incident until after his criminal charge was resolved — citing an internal policy. Calls and emails sent to Edgar inquiring about that footage this week have yet to receive a response.
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