It’s been more than a year since former Mayor Stan Wright was convicted on four federal corruption charges. The city of Bayou la Batre has finally settled the last of three lawsuits that stemmed from his time in office.
During a May 8 meeting, city council members unanimously approved to pay $67,000 in a settlement with former police captain Darryl Wilson and several other parties. Wright was indicted last year as a result of an FBI probe, which found that he transferred a piece property in the Safe Harbor subdivision to his daughter, who then sold it to the city for $27,249.
The Wilson suit, which was filed in 2011, alleged Wright retaliated against the former captain after discovering he was assisting the FBI. The allegations were substantiated when Wright was convicted of an additional charge of retaliating against a witness during his criminal proceedings in 2013.
Wilson claimed he was removed from investigative duties and stripped of his position on a federal Drug Task Force at Wright’s behest, and that the mayor then ordered Wilson reassigned to patrol duties.
Wright also insisted Wilson be investigated by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation during a separate incident involving $2,600 in funds discovered missing from the Bayou la Batre Police Department’s property room, even though the bureau did not consider him to be a suspect.
The out-of-court settlement was reached by three parties named as defendants in the suit —the city of Bayou la Batre, Wright and the Alabama Municipal Insurance Corporation, which provided some coverage for the city.
Former city council members Louie Hard and Matthew Nelson were named in the lawsuit along with George Ramires, who still holds his seat on the council.
Nelson and Ramires were accused of knowing about Wright’s actions but failing to address them.
However, Wilson dismissed Ramires from the complaint in February.
“This was a very complex situation. There were a lot of issues including retirement fund payments and different things, but the net result is the city will pay $67,000,” Mayor Brett Dungan said. “I don’t know the complete percentage each party paid, but I can say the city probably paid the least.”
Attorney Andrew Rutens, who has represented the city in the litigation process, couldn’t comment as to the amounts paid by the other parties because the settlement has yet to be finalized. The conclusion of the matter comes a month after Bayou la Batre leaders resolved another legal issue involving the Bayou la Batre Housing Authority filed by residents of the Safe Harbor subdivision.
The subdivision was created using funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) alternative housing pilot program after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the costal community.
The $400 million grant program helped establish housing for hurricane victims in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — $15.7 million of which went directly to Bayou la Batre.
Nine residents eventually filed a suit after federal funding ran out and the housing authority was forced to raise rent prices on the Safe Harbor properties substantially.
The residents also claimed they were baited into the subdivision by a promised opportunity of home ownership or home leasing after 24 months that never came to fruition.
Dungan said he felt the city shouldn’t have been named as a defendant in the civil suit because it doesn’t have anything to do with the rates set by the housing authority. City attorney Bill Wasden has said previously that was a result of the city’s role in the grant application process prior to the formal establishment of the housing authority.
Despite only being involved as the landowner, Bayou la Batre paid out $41,000 in April as part of a settlement reached out of court.
Marcia Stork, president of the Bayou la Batre Housing Authority, said she could not disclose the housing board’s involvement in the settlement because of a confidentially agreement.
John Lee, the authority’s attorney, said the settlement with the plaintiffs is still in the process of being executed, but the case has been officially dismissed by a judge’s order.
Two former residents who didn’t wish to be identified said they turned down cash settlements of $1,500 and $2,800, respectively, but the details of the settlement, other than the city’s contribution, have yet to be disclosed.
“It’s a new day at the housing authority,” Lee said. “We are very pleased all of this is behind us now. We’ve got full occupancy with the exception of a couple of units.”
Despite the dismissal of the case, former and current residents at Safe Harbor are partnering with organizations like the NAACP and Alabama Fisheries Cooperative asking Dungan to use his authority as mayor to appoint “reasonable and responsible” people to the authority’s board of directors.
Zack Carter, an organizer for the AFC, said several residents are still looking at what other legal and grassroots options might be available.
Back in March, the city wrapped up yet another out-of-court settlement with former public safety director Mitch Stuckey.
Stuckey signed a three-year contract with the city in September 2011 under the direction of Wright and proceeded almost immediately to suspend John Joyner, who was the police chief at that time. Joyner has since retired from the police force but said in previous interviews he felt Stuckey’s hire was an attempt by Wright to interfere with the police department.
After Wright was convicted, the city council decided a public safety director wasn’t needed and dissolved the position. Stuckey then sued the city for the remaining balance of his contract, resulting in a $7,000 settlement.
“These three lawsuits were a cancer we needed to get rid of,” Dungan said. “It’s important that we put these things behind us and move on with the development of our city.”
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