City leaders have criticized the state of the criminal justice system for contributing to a wave of violence in Mobile that culminated over the weekend in multiple shootings and three deaths.
“In my opinion, the criminal justice system is broken,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said at a Monday news conference. The event also brought together the city’s new chief of police, Paul Prine, and the two former police chiefs who have different roles within the administration – Chief of Staff James Barber and Executive Director of Security public Lawrence Battiste.
“We can’t stop to get out of the way,” Prine said. “We need help. We need help from the prosecutor’s office and the justice system.
He added: “To say it’s broken is an understatement.
Concerns expressed by Stimpon, Prine and others have centered on a backlog of court cases awaiting jury trials in Mobile County. Some of those cases have been stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, but city officials say 142 murder cases are awaiting a grand jury and 193 murder cases are awaiting a jury trial.
“We have 345 untried murder cases,” Stimpson said. “Many of these people walk the streets today. The lack of fast leads emboldens criminals.
Some criticism appeared directed at Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich’s office and the Mobile County Judicial Circuit. A prosecutor from Rich’s office met with city of Mobile officials on Monday to discuss the status of the pending cases. A call and email to Rich’s office went unreturned Monday night. Presiding Judge Michael Youngpeter was also unavailable for comment.
The frustrations come after a violent weekend in the Alabama port city that began Friday and continued through Sunday at a vigil linked to a murder two days earlier.
Prine, himself, was at the wake where the shooting happened.
“The chef was there,” Stimpson said. “We had an abundance of officers there. But when there is retaliation, it is difficult to thwart this crime.
More than a dozen police reports of shootings took place from Friday to Sunday.
High profile incidents include:
- Two men were fatally shot around 1:35 p.m. Friday on Cottage Hill and Azalea Roads in Mobile.
- A woman was shot in the back around 1 a.m. Saturday at The Grounds, 951 Cody Road South. The shooting occurred as a crowd was leaving a concert being held in the auditorium at the fairgrounds. As the crowd fled after the gunshot, two other women were injured. They were taken to hospital with minor injuries.
- Gunfire erupted during a candlelight vigil for victims of Friday’s shooting around 7:30 p.m. on Cottage Hill and Azalea roads. No injuries were reported, but Chief of Staff James Barber said Monday he was surprised no one was killed because “70 rounds were fired in the parking lot.” He added: “How it didn’t lead to more injuries and deaths than what happened is quite remarkable to me.”
Those arrested in Sunday’s vigil shooting were: Tymetrick James 20, charged with attempting to escape and refusing to obey; Jonas Dillard, 20, for receiving stolen property and no gun license; Artez Williams, 20, for lack of a gun license and theft of property; and Zeveon Thames, 24, for lack of a gun license, possession of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana.
Focus on repeat offenders
The latest crime wave comes after Mobile set a new one-year record for homicides in 2021, and as cities across the United States grapple with an increase in gun violence.
Stimpson blamed it primarily on recidivism and the justice system’s inability to tackle a growing backlog of murder cases. He said if “known repeat offenders” are incarcerated, “you will see a reduction in crime.”
“We can focus on what we can do to work closely with neighborhoods, what we can do in education and what support organizations can do to help with the rehabilitation process,” he said. -he declares. “None of this will change anything if we can’t get these repeat violent offenders off the streets.
He said the longer ‘we wait’ to clear the backlog of cases, ‘the more people are going to be hurt’.
But Stimpson and Prine said the general public shouldn’t be scared.
Prine said the weekend shootings were not random acts of violence.
“Most of these perpetrators know who their targets are,” Prine said, acknowledging that gang-related violence is a likely culprit. “The problem is that shooting at the public creates danger for innocent bystanders.”
He added: “What I would like the public to know is that he is not the target.”
Stimpson added, “For the average citizen driving down the streets of Mobile and in and out of the grocery store, there’s really nothing to worry about. But know that we are doing everything we can to make sure they are safe and that will happen as soon as we start seeing some of these criminals locked up.
The Stimpson administration is backing some solutions, though the timing of a key measure is months away from happening.
Aniah’s Law, a constitutional amendment supported by the Alabama Legislature last year, will not be possible until voters weigh in on it in the November election. Aniah’s law, if passed by voters, allows judges to deny bail to violent criminals.
Barber said the effects of the law are needed sooner rather than later this year. He blamed the outdated nature of the state’s 1901 Constitution for requiring a constitutional amendment before law enforcement would be allowed to use a tool to help tackle violent crime.
“We face the threats of the 21st century with a 1901 Constitution,” he said, referring to the requirement for a constitutional amendment to get the measure approved. “They didn’t have high capacity guns in 1901.”
Stimpson also said he was pushing the Alabama State Supreme Court to increase funding for the Mobile Judicial Circuit so that an additional circuit judge would be budgeted for.
“Funding is very important for this,” he said.
A special court to help authorities expedite the backlog has since been set up, Barber said. Stimpson said he was working with Chief Justice Tom Parker and Youngpeter to focus on catching up on criminal trials involving violent offenders.
The city also plans to increase police salaries in the coming year to reverse the downward trend in personnel. According to Barber, the “optimal” complement would consist of 650 officers. The city currently has 413 officers employed, having lost 111 officers in the past 12 months.
“It shows the seriousness of what we’re working with,” Barber said. “Those who work are tired, they are stressed. This isn’t a Mobile-specific issue, and we’re seeing it across the country.
The Mobile Police, in the coming months, will also be rolling out its crime-fighting initiative called “Operation Echo Stop” which focuses on targeting gun violence before it happens. A key part of this effort is the installation of cameras as part of “ShotSpotter”, a gunshot detection technology.
The Mobile City Council is expected to approve an expenditure of approximately $525,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to purchase ShotSpotter’s camera and technology equipment.
“That alone will not address the concerns we put on the table today,” Battiste said. “ShotSpotter is a component that helps identify and protect whenever these crimes occur.”