The Mobile County District Attorney’s office last week handed down an order against Mobile County Constable Larry Sheffield, who was charged with murder in Baldwin County after allegedly shooting a man in the head outside a Causeway bar July 20.
After reviewing the case, a grand jury Dec. 18 issued an article of impeachment against Sheffield, Assistant DA Keith Blackwood said.
According to authorities, Sheffield, 68, and Jeffrey McMillan, 53, got into an argument inside Trader’s bar on Battleship Parkway, commonly known as the Causeway, before moving the confrontation to the parking lot, where Sheffield shot McMillan in the head.
McMillan was dead when police arrived on the scene, officials said.
At this time, Sheffield has the option to resign and vacate his office, ultimately terminating the impeachment process, or he can appeal the impeachment by way of a jury trial, Blackwood said.
Though Blackwood noted the impeachment is “not a criminal matter,” he said Sheffield should not be allowed to hold the office of constable after being charged with murder.
“Constables have police powers,” he said, noting constables are elected to serve the individual precincts in which they live, but actually have police powers within all of Mobile County.
“They are peace officers,” Blackwood said. “It’s a very historic office.”
While he admitted the office of constable is “modernly disorganized,” Blackwood said there are many constables who do a good job and assist other law enforcement agencies with their duties.
Roughly two-thirds of Mobile’s precincts have constables, while the others remain vacant, he said.
Sheffield was elected constable for Precinct 24, serving the Semmes area, according to the Mobile County Constables website.
In addition to Sheffield, the DA’s office also filed a petition to remove Mario Yow from his position as constable within Mobile County, Blackwood said.
“We think they need to vacate their office,” he said.
In 2012, just months before being elected as constable, Yow was arrested for trafficking cocaine; however, because the arrest occurred before he took office, Blackwood said his office filed a “quo warranto” petition, a slightly different process that renders the same results.
“It’s similar to an impeachment but [with] procedural differences,” Blackwood said. “It’s the same result — it’s a way to get him out of office.”
Leo Bullock, a Mobile County Constable who has served 30 years, recognized some recent problems with constables, pointing to Sheffield and Yow in particular. However, he said the Mobile County Constables work hard to ensure these issues are being properly addressed.
In fact, Bullock said he and the Constable Office prompted the district attorney’s investigation into Sheffield and Yow. According to Bullock, he met with Attorney General Luther Strange and requested an opinion on how to remove them from office.
More specifically, Bullock said anytime the constables have a question about law and how to interpret it, they request an official opinion from the attorney general. In this case, Bullock said he requested an opinion about removing an elected official who had been convicted of a felony crime or misconduct, or conduct unbecoming of a law enforcement officer.
After being “totally in agreement” with the attorney general’s response, Bullock said he sent a letter to the Mobile County DA’s office, requesting they move forward with the cases against Sheffield and Yow.
“We do have a check and balance. We’re no different from any other law enforcement,” Bullock said, citing the district attorney’s impeachment articles.
Despite the recent controversies, Bullock said constables are “big benefits” to the county, as they provide assistance and manpower for local law enforcement agencies to combat criminal activity such as home invasions and robberies.
“That continues to go on,” he said. “The best chance you have against all that is a visible officer in a uniform and a marked car.”
Bullock also reiterated that constables are no cost to taxpayers and receive no salary for their duties.
“We work on fees established by the legislature,” he said.
Furthermore, Bullock said constables serve a lot of court orders, alleviating the duty for sheriff’s deputies.
“I do hold myself accountable to the public that entrusted me to this office,” Bullock said. “We are concerned that [this] happened to be two individuals within our ranks, but we assure the public we work hard to police our rank.”
However, after these high-profile incidents, many wonder who or what other entity oversees them.
“They don’t really answer to us,” Blackwood said of the constables. “They are elected officials in their precincts, but the district attorney’s office is certainly tasked with making sure that they are eligible to hold their office … that goes for any elected official in Mobile County.”
According to Blackwood, a trial date for Sheffield has not been set, though he anticipates it will take place sometime in January. Judge Charles Graddick will preside, he said.
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