While the criminal investigation into former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has ended, a lawsuit filed by former law enforcement secretary Spencer Collier is moving forward as Collier faces his own legal challenges.
Announcing the conclusion of the criminal investigation last week, Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks said prosecutors were frustrated with limitations in Alabama’s ethics and campaign laws preventing further charges against Bentley.
Brooks was appointed to oversee the investigation into whether Bentley misused state resources to cover up an affair with his then-chief political strategist Rebekah Mason after Attorney General Steve Marshall — a Bentley appointee — recused himself in early 2017.
The investigation, which was led by the AG’s special prosecutions unit, covered a lot of areas and relied on information from Collier, who went to the media with allegations of Bentley’s affair after he was terminated as the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency in 2016.
Bentley said Collier was terminated after an internal investigation found a number of issues within ALEA, including the “possible misuse of state funds.” The same year, Collier filed a civil lawsuit against Bentley, Mason and his replacement at ALEA, Stan Stabler.
His attorneys have maintained the claims against Collier and the subsequent ALEA investigation were part of a conspiracy to defame his character and remove him from office because of what he knew about Bentley’s relationship with Mason at the time. All defendants have made efforts to be dismissed from the suit but with little success.
Bentley has tried to claim he is entitled to immunity from civil liability in Collier’s claims because he was a state constitutional officer at the time, but a judge ruled last November state immunity wouldn’t protect Bentley from “conduct outside the course and scope” of his job.
The ruling allowed Collier’s claims of defamation, invasion of privacy and conspiracy to move forward. Bentley’s attorneys asked the Alabama Supreme Court to intervene in hopes of seeing the decision overturned, but the high court declined his request last week.
In recent court filings, Bentley’s attorneys have tried to get Collier to discuss conversations he had with the AG’s office about the special grand jury that investigated Bentley.
Collier’s attorneys argued those communications would be protected under the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and noted that, at the time of that request, Bentley’s attorneys were seeking information related to an active criminal investigation into the former governor’s actions.
It’s unclear if the conclusion of the criminal investigation last week will effect Collier’s willingness to discuss any involvement he had with the grand jury.
In previous depositions, though, Collier has also declined to discuss conversations he admitted to having with members of former Attorney General Luther Strange’s office in 2016 while they were impaneling a separate grand jury as part of the investigation into his tenure over ALEA.
An ALEA integrity unit investigated the “possible misuse of state funds” Bentley used to justify Collier’s termination, but later that year a grand jury declined to indict Collier on any charges after reviewing the allegations laid out in ALEA’s report.
“No credible basis” for any criminal inquiry was found, which appears to support Collier’s claim that the allegations were merely an attempt to discredit him and get him out of Bentley’s Cabinet.
However, in a deposition from February, Collier said he had “at least 10” conversations with members of the attorney general’s office about the grand jury reviewing that ALEA investigation — conversations he said occurred outside of the grand jury’s presence throughout 2016.
Immediately after those statements were made, a transcript shows Collier asked to confer with his attorney. The deposition proceeded “off the record.” A copy of that portion of the deposition transcript and other court documents can be viewed below.
Another interesting development in Collier’s lawsuit against Bentley has been the former governor’s attempts to subpoena toxicology reports from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences taken after an unrelated car accident Collier was involved in last summer.
Collier, who is currently the chief of police in the city of Selma, is accused of causing an accident on Aug. 14, 2017, injuring himself and another motorist. At the time of the crash, he was driving an unmarked police SUV issued to him by the city of Selma.
State troopers, who serve under the ALEA umbrella, responded to the scene. An accident report indicates Collier’s vehicle left the roadway on U.S. Route 80, overcorrected and then crossed the median before striking another vehicle. Collier stated he doesn’t remember anything about the crash or the events leading to it.
Investigators took a blood sample from Collier that was submitted to ADFS for analysis. The results of that test are the subject of the toxicology report Bentley’s attorneys have attempted to subpoena as part of Collier’s civil lawsuit.
Lagniappe requested the same toxicology report from ADFS in March, but was denied after Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey notified ADFS the case “remains under criminal investigation.” No details were given about the nature of the investigation.
Additionally, Collier faces a civil suit stemming from the 2017 collision, filed by Carl Mickle — the driver of the other vehicle — in February. Collier, the city of Selma and Alfa Mutual Insurance Co. are named as defendants in that suit.
Emails sent to Collier seeking comments for this report did not receive a response.