Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran has come out in support of a former judge tried for pulling inmates out of Metro Jail and offering leniency in exchange for sexual favors and spankings.
In a phone interview with Lagniappe Thursday morning, Cochran said he supports former Mobile County Circuit Court judge Herman Thomas for Mobile City Council’s District 1 seat. Thomas is currently in an Oct. 5 runoff for the seat against Cory Penn.
Thomas resigned from the bench in 2007 as he faced a hearing before the state’s Judicial Inquiries Commission on charges he spanked and sexually abused prisoners. He was indicted nearly two years later on 180 criminal charges related to abuse of power. The jury in his trial deadlocked on several charges and the judge overseeing the case dismissed them rather than having Thomas retried.
On the legal issues, Cochran acknowledged that Thomas was “charged in a highly political thing, but found not guilty.” Again, the jury in the case deadlocked. .
“I believe when somebody’s found not guilty, you should trust the system,” Cochran said.
The jury of seven women and five men issued not guilty verdicts on seven charges, a sodomy charge, one second-degree assault and five sexual abuse charges. The jury foreman the judge in the trial it was unlikely they would come to any agreement on 14 other charges after 16 hours of deliberation.
Special Judge Claud Neilson, who had been brought from out of town to hear the case after Thomas’ former colleagues on the Circuit Court recused themselves, then, as a “matter of law,” found Thomas not guilty on all the remaining second-degree assault charges, determining that a paddle or a belt was not a dangerous instrument, and therefore did not meet the wording in the law. During the trial, Thomas’ defense team all-but-admitted the ex-judge had paddled or spanked the alleged victims, but had repeatedly said Thomas “wasn’t on trial for spanking anyone.”
Neilson then went down the list and tossed the remaining sodomy and second-degree assault charges. On the sodomy issue, Neilson said there had to be forcible compulsion to do so but no such thing happened. The jury found Thomas not guilty in the case of the alleged victim who had an I.Q. of 55 and claimed the then-judge tried to force his mouth onto the judge’s penis by grabbing the back of his head.
It is Thomas’ apparent support of annexation that has gained Cochran’s support, the sheriff said.
“He supports the fact that the city needs to grow,” Cochran said. “That is the number one issue in the city of Mobile.”
While Thomas has publicly shown support for growth in comments during political forums, Cochran said he’s spoken with Thomas and the former judge told him he’d vote for annexation.
If it weren’t for his support of annexation, Cochran said he would not be supporting Thomas.
In a podcast interview with Lagniappe, which will drop later this month, Penn also said he was pro-growth.
“Annexation is one way to grow our city and I’m pro-growth,” Penn said. “With that being said, I want to see a plan to see just how annexation will impact our current communities we serve and a transparent and detailed plan that identifies the advantages and I think when we have that plan we can share that with our constituents. That’s the thing; I want to hear from my constituents. I would like to see that plan, but I’m pro-growth. I want Mobile to grow.”
In late 2019, the Mobile City Council voted down a plan pushed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to allow more than 13,000 residents of West Mobile to vote, via referendum, to join the city. The vote fell along racial lines, with the council’s four White members voting in favor of the referendum and the three Black members voting against. The vote failed due to lack of a supermajority in favor of the move. Following the vote, Cochran led a charge to change the supermajority rule, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed that down.
The Mobile branch of the Southern States’ Police Benevolent Association has given the Thomas campaign $700 during this election cycle. Cochran is not listed among the group’s board, but two Mobile County deputies are listed among the leadership.
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