Bentley Heads to Washington, Dothan Officer ID Theft

Jul 15, 2015

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

Governor Robert Bentley testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington yesterday. Alabama Public Radio’s Stan Ingold reports the Governor was highlighting Alabama’s prison reform efforts.

The goal of the committee’s hearing is to share lessons on successful criminal justice reform from states like Alabama. Several federal reform bills are currently before the U.S. House and Senate covering topics like reducing repeat offenders, changing federal sentencing rules and guidelines, and improving prison practices.

Alabama launched the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2014. It's a comprehensive study of the state’s criminal justice system to identify ways to run prisons at less cost.

With JRI recommendations and passage of legislation in the 2015 Regular Session, Governor Bentley signed a criminal justice reform bill into law. The legislation is expected to reduce the state’s prison population by more than 42-hundred people, avoid more than 380 million dollars in future costs and provide supervision for 3,000 more people upon release from prison.

Bentley says he believes Alabama is a national model for prison reform.

A former Dothan police officer is facing multiple felony charges for stealing the identities of military service members he served with before joining the police force.

The Dothan Eagle reports 28-year-old Charles Thomas Simmer faces a total of 20 felony charges, including 15 separate counts of identity theft. He was first arrested in March and new charges were added over the weekend after two new victims came forward.

Dothan police investigator Erik Broten says Simmer used information on people he served alongside in the military to open credit card accounts. Broten says Simmer initially claimed to be a victim of identity theft himself. That prompted their police investigation.

Simmer resigned after serving less than a year as a Dothan police officer.

The Vestavia Hills City School district is having a special meeting today.

The official agenda today is one thing. The subject that seems to be on everyone’s mind is the fate of Vestavia High School’s mascot, the Rebel Man. A recent school board meeting allowed members of the community to voice their support and opposition for the proposed change.

Whit McGhee is the spokesman for Vestavia Hills City Schools. He says the community’s opinion is important to the final outcome.

“The board of education wants to make sure before they make any decision at all that they are doing so in a collaborative way. How you foster collaboration is you go to your community and say, ‘What’s your take on this and why do you think that way?’."

McGhee says Superintendent Sheila Phillips is expected to make a decision on the mascot by the end of the month.

A local chapter of the NAACP is calling to remove the Confederate battle flag from Alabama state troopers' uniforms and patrol vehicles.

Rev. Robert Shanklin of the NAACP's Huntsville chapter told local media the flag is offensive and should not be included in troopers’ uniforms or on the vehicles they drive. The battle flag is part of the Alabama state seal as well as the seal of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

Shanklin has suggested that the Alabama state flag replace the battle flag in the seal. State troopers say changing the emblem would require state action.

The Confederate battle flag has come under renewed scrutiny since nine black churchgoers were fatally shot during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. The man charged in the shooting had been photographed with the flag numerous times and allegedly committed the murders in hopes of starting a race war.