Hoss is getting sued … again.
Yes, once again Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack is being dragged into a civil suit over an avoidable tragedy. And once again, he’s doing everything he can to keep you from hearing about it.
This latest suit was filed by the family of Joseph Andrews, 81, and his son, Kevin Andrews, 54, who were killed when they were hit head-on by a Chevy Malibu being chased into oncoming interstate traffic by Loxley police officer Stephen Bailey, who was assigned to the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) Special Operations Unit. In addition to the Andrews, Dominic Scotti Garcia Jr., 26, of San Antonio, Texas, who was driving the Malibu, and 34-year-old Crystal Lee Moradie of Converse, Texas, and Payton Leigh Northcutt, 25, of Leesville, La., also died in a horrific fire after the collision.
Even two years almost to the day after this happened, details are few. We have been told Bailey attempted to pull Garcia over after he observed him “impeding the flow of traffic and changing lanes without using a turn signal.” The ensuing chase went on for several miles, and Garcia entered and exited I-10 more than once, then ended up driving at a high speed into oncoming traffic. Witnesses told media outlets at the time that Bailey was still pursuing the Malibu into oncoming traffic.
You’d think two years later we would know a lot more about all of this, but it’s been hard to come by a lot of information. Mack and District Attorney David Wilters have previously only told us a grand jury hadn’t yet been convened on the matter, and there have also been no announcements Bailey has been cleared by the grand jury or the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit, which is tasked with investigating officers in situations where there may have been wrongdoing.
Even as we wrote a news story about the suit this week, Wilters wasn’t returning calls and Mack rather nonchalantly said he couldn’t comment, but that he believes a grand jury reviewed the case last year. He believes? Shouldn’t the sheriff know for a fact where this is in the process? I know he has a lot on his plate, but he has time to worry about lawyers having the proper credentials to carry cell phones into the county courthouse, so you’d think he might have time to keep up with a situation where five people died.
But it’s not surprising this all is poking along with no resolution — it’s Baldwin County. And Mack has been defensive about the wreck since it happened. Standing on the roadside in the aftermath of the five deaths, Mack was already striking a defensive posture. Interviewed by WALA FOX10, he emphasized this accident and these deaths were all the fault of the people running from the police.
“Keep in mind, these people ran from us,” he said with emphasis. “So, they’re the ones that caused all this, and we were the ones that were trying to render the situation safe in that. As to why they were running and everything, and as to the continued pursuit, those are all things that we do look at in the investigation, and we will review.”
Given this attitude, maybe it’s not that surprising the “investigation” he promised hasn’t had any conclusion two years after the Andrews — who were not running from police — died. I suppose we can assume an investigation was at least started, but that’s just a guess.
Bailey’s pursuit of Garcia and his two passengers appears to have blatantly violated several of the prescribed procedures for initiating a chase, including that he was in an unmarked vehicle, and that such chases should be broken off when the risks expose the public to “unwarranted risk” especially when the “violation is not of a serious nature.”
It’s a no-brainer that writing a ticket for changing lanes without a traffic signal versus chasing someone into oncoming interstate traffic at high speed is not really worth the risk. But even if you think that matter is debatable, the process itself ought to concern Baldwin County citizens. Cop chases car, people die, sheriff says it’s not his fault and then — poof! — nothing else happens.
Shouldn’t we at least get a dog and pony show like the one when deputy Matt Hunady was cleared in the shooting of unarmed motorist Jonathan Victor in 2017? In that one, Wilters tried his hardest to lead reporters to believe Victor had been under the influence of narcotics, despite the fact the Ketamine in his system was administered by paramedics after he was shot. But certainly, the assembled reporters would understand the shooting much more if Victor was abusing drugs.
Mack is getting sued in that case as well. What may be most frightening for the sheriff is that the case is in federal court and not under the control of the shifty crew of “judges” that make up the county’s circuit court. The Andrews’ suit, however, has landed in front of Circuit Court Judge Clark Stankoski, which should only make the plaintiffs happy if they’ve always wanted to experience unethical judicial high jinks first-hand. Suing Mack in Baldwin County is only useful as a demonstration of how deep in his pocket the judges actually are.
In both the Andrews’ death and the shooting of Victor, the people who lost loved ones have had to turn to the civil courts to attempt to get any kind of determination of what exactly happened, because in both cases Mack’s control of the process makes it intentionally obtuse.
In Victor’s case, the civil suit made public body camera footage, 911 transcripts and other evidence Mack had blocked us from seeing. Yes, Lagniappe also had to sue him, but that’s still sitting in front of the Alabama Supreme Court nine months later. What the civil suit revealed was the comedy of errors that led officers to believe Victor was armed and dangerous. All of that was sanitized from the presser clearing Hunady of wrongdoing.
Baldwin County citizens, you really should ask yourselves if you or a loved one were involved in a deadly situation with the BCSO, do you think it would be handled in a clear and open fashion? Would you trust Sheriff Mack to put your interests above his own? Would you trust there would be a truly independent investigation? Do you think the District Attorney’s office would seek to properly investigate and to make the process as transparent as possible? Would you trust the Baldwin County judges to fairly adjudicate any legal fight?
If you’re answering “yes” to those questions, I have some swampland to sell you.
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