The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) has come under fire from Alabama Constables Association (ACA) for arresting a constable who detained another man following a traffic stop Wednesday night.
ACA President Chauncey Wood released a statement today condemning the arrest of Mobile County Constable Jeffrey Melton Morris, who was booked into Mobile Metro Jail July 11 for impersonating a peace officer and unlawful imprisonment after stopping and attempting to arrest a motorist in the Tanner Williams area.
According to MCSO, Morris pulled Stephen Slade Orso over because he was allegedly following too close. At the time, Orso had an outstanding warrant for a probation violation connected to a 2014 conviction for leaving the scene of an accident with injuries. The victim injured in that accident later died, according to MCSO.
Lori Myles, public affairs director for MCSO, told Lagniappe that Morris handcuffed Orso before calling sheriff’s deputies for backup. However, when they arrived on the scene, they arrested Morris and let Orso go after notifying his parole office and ordering him to turn himself in at metro jail within 48 hours.
In a press release, Wood said the ACA received numerous calls from law enforcement officers across the state who were concerned that Morris’ arrest would create “a dangerous precedent for peace officers carrying out their lawful duties.” He compared arresting an elected constable to “performing his duty as set out in Alabama law” to “arresting a county commissioner for performing their lawful duties as a county commissioner.”
“It’s especially concerning and egregious that an offender with an outstanding arrest warrant was released at the scene while a sworn peace officer, who was following standard procedure, was himself arrested by the backup he requested from the sheriff’s office,” Wood wrote. “We believe it’s improper and unlawful for the sheriff to make the law regarding other peace officers. That should properly be left to the voters and their representatives in Montgomery.”
Wood said ACA expects District Attorney Ashley Rich’s office “to follow the rule of the law and drop these erroneous charges.”
Under Alabama law, constables are given the same arresting authority as the sheriff and sheriff’s deputies, and Wood said they’re permitted to carry pistols, make arrests, stop and question with reasonable suspicion and search for and confiscate dangerous weapons.
Despite that, the vast majority of jails across Alabama don’t recognize arrests made by constables and a majority of counties no longer have constables at all. While MCSO works with some constables, Myles said metro jail will not accept any inmates arrested by officers who are not certified through the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission.
Morris is not APOSTC certified, but the organization doesn’t allow constables to enroll in the courses required to obtain that certification. The only thing close to a certification process for constables are the training programs and conferences offered by local associations and the National Constables and Marshals Association.
However, longtime Mobile County Constable Leo Bullock has previously confirmed that Morris has not attended any of the training courses offered locally.
Since Morris’ arrest, Cochran and some other top-ranking MCSO employees have expressed concerns about the lack of a background check system and standard qualification for the constable position — something that’s caused problems in Mobile County specifically over the past few years.
Since 2012, at least six current or former Mobile County Constables — including Morris — have been charged and convicted for crimes ranging from murder to domestic violence. Morris himself was charged with three counts of domestic violence last year. He also has previous assault and DUI charges.
Since 2014, the Mobile County District Attorney’s office has successfully removed at least two constables from office after they received felony criminal convictions in court.
In a statement Friday, Cochran aired some of his concerns with constables in Alabama.
“Currently, constables answer to no one except the voters, and to be elected is as easy as writing in a name on the ballot,” he said. “There need to be background checks on every constable before taking office. Their association should provide additional training along with better certification.”
As the custodian of the local jail, Cochran also doubled down on his position that metro jail “will only accept prisoners from agencies who have been certified by APOSTC” because that’s the only way to determine who has “met all of the qualifications needed to be a peace officer in Mobile County.”
Cochran did not respond to the condemnation from the ACA directly and Myles said MCSO wouldn’t be releasing a statement on this at this time.
“We will wait for the courts to decide,” she added.
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