The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office arrested one of its former deputies last week on charges of drug possession and evidence tampering, but while Sheriff Sam Cochran has confirmed many of the details, the motivation for the officer’s conduct remains a mystery to investigators.
Seth Stevens was indicted on more than a half-dozen counts of evidence tampering, theft and drug possession — charges stemming from conduct that occurred while he was still serving as an MCSO deputy.
According to Metro Jail records, Stevens’ charges included five counts of tampering with physical evidence, second-degree theft of property and drug possession charges related to paraphernalia, marijuana, an undisclosed controlled substance and illegal prescription pills.
Last week, Cochran fielded questions about the internal investigation that led to Stevens’ termination and arrest, telling reporters the former deputy had, on more than one occasion, failed to properly turn in evidence seized during MCSO operations.
Specifically, he said Stevens had retained an assortment of various drugs and a handgun in his personal possession that should have been logged into evidence, and when confronted about it could not provide any rationalization for doing so. Most, if not all, of that evidence was later recovered from Stevens’ home or from the trunk of his vehicle, according to Cochran.
After Stevens’ termination, MCSO proceeded with a criminal investigation and ultimately turned those findings over to the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office.
However, Cochran also said the motivations for Stevens’ actions aren’t entirely clear, as he had been trained to properly turn in evidence. Cochran speculated that “it was either laziness or some other intent we don’t know.”
“There was no indication he was selling any of these drugs or any indication he was using any drugs. We drug tested him as part of our internal investigation, and he tested clean,” Cochran added. “We don’t have a good answer, but what we do know is he violated criminal statutes and did not follow [our] rules and regulations.”
The cases connected to the evidence Stevens failed to turn over were “very minimal, misdemeanor offenses,” according to Cochran, who said most had been resolved in court before Stevens’ conduct was discovered in the internal investigation.
Stevens’ arrest has a few similarities to another case brought earlier this year against former deputy Chris Parsons, who was terminated in March after MCSO caught him purchasing illegal drugs and keeping controlled substances in his patrol car.
Yet, MCSO didn’t arrest Parsons immediately, as Cochran opted to send his case to a grand jury while Parsons went through a drug treatment program. He was indicted two months later on six drugs charges. After pleading guilty to one, Parsons received two years of probation.
Likewise, Stevens wasn’t arrested for months after MCSO found him to be in possession of multiple illegal drugs and a stolen firearm. Cochran defended the delay last week, though, saying MCSO’s criminal investigation was still active when Stevens was terminated. He also said it took time for the drugs to undergo proper laboratory examinations.
“When you take a case to the grand jury you’re actually expediting the case and bringing about a quicker solution to it,” Cochran said. “The reason to arrest someone is to keep them from fleeing or leaving town, and we didn’t feel like there was any risk of him fleeing.”
Parsons and Stevens were arrested roughly six months apart, but while Cochran acknowledged some might see officers facing criminal charges as “an embarrassment to law enforcement,” he said those cases and similar ones from other departments in the area prove that officers are being held accountable.
“We tell our folks they’re going to be held to a higher standard,” Cochran said. “If they violate our standards of conduct, it will result in their termination, and if they violate any criminal offenses, they’ll be charged just as any other citizen.”
However, Parsons and Stevens weren’t the only deputies MCSO lost to conduct violations in 2017.
MCSO spokeswoman Lori Myles recently confirmed that two other deputies — Justin Arata and Paul Sonny Smitherman — resigned from the agency while being investigated by its internal affairs unit in June. It’s currently unclear what the nature of those investigations were or whether they were connected.
Neither Arata nor Smitherman has been the subject of any criminal investigation, which Myles said prohibits MCSO from disclosing why it was investigating their conduct in the first place. The agency is not alone, though.
During the past year, officers from several agencies in the area have been arrested for criminal conduct or have left their jobs following alleged conduct violations.
Damian Colvin, a former corporal of the Mobile Police Department, was hit with charges similar to Stevens’ in August, including possession of a controlled substance, theft of property and tampering with physical evidence. According to MPD, Colvin resigned almost immediately after his charges were brought to light.
MPD has lost two other officers over disciplinary violations since December 2016 — one who was terminated for opening fire on an unarmed man outside Mobile’s police jurisdiction and a second who resigned after being placed on administrative leave for being filmed driving his squad car erratically and striking another motorist.
In November, Prichard officer Bryan Pearman was arrested on charges of domestic violence, kidnapping and harassing communications, while Sgt. Carl Griffith — a veteran of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office — resigned while being investigated for allegedly abusing overtime and falsifying time records. Griffith is currently the subject of a criminal investigation.
More recently, an officer with the Bay Minette Police Department was arrested by deputies in Baldwin County. Cpl. Charles Tingler, arrested Dec. 1 on a charge of domestic violence, has since been terminated from the department.
Updated Dec. 6, 2017, to reflect new information and comments from Sheriff Sam Cochran.