Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Keith McGuire Rape Case - Part II

"He stated he had a problem." - Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely speaking of Keith McGuire

It was early in 2002 when Robin Greene’s 12 year-old daughter came to her with a story of being touched by her physical education teacher. Coach McGuire had touched her breast while they were playing one-on-one basketball and she knew it wasn’t right. Soon a 16 year-old girl came forward with a similar story concerning the Clements coach.

Clements, a rural school in western Limestone County, was a tight knit institution. Such things didn’t happen at the sprawling school where Keith McGuire had access to girls in the 7th through 12th grades. The school board called a special meeting and convened behind closed doors on March 7, 2002, to accept McGuire’s resignation.

The board stressed that McGuire, who had not retained an attorney, had taken a polygraph with inconclusive results. No charges were filed against the teacher even though according to Sheriff Mike Blakely, McGuire stated that he had “a problem.” The board also agreed to take no further action on the Clements coach’s teaching license on the condition he agree to counseling. Keith McGuire attended one session.

McGuire soon returned to the hamlet of Lexington where his father was a member of the town council. The town’s water department was in need of a meter reader, and Bobby McGuire made sure the job was offered to his son. Keith McGuire’s salary at the financially strapped water department was barely enough to meet his basic needs, and he began searching for another teaching position.

Without any official black marks on his record and a still valid teaching license, McGuire found work in the nearby Haleyville school system. He began coaching at the Winston County school in September 2002, but the problem of his mounting debts remained. Not eager to give up his job with the town of Lexington, but unable to fulfill his obligations on his free weekends, he sought an assistant to help with meter reading and related duties. Soon his friend Lloyd Hayes, a former Florence City Fire Marshal and convicted sex offender, joined McGuire in the field. It wasn’t long before residents realized the two men spent an inordinate amount of time working around one local entity--Lexington High School.

To be continued...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Keith McGuire Rape Case - Part I

"He stated he had a problem." - Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely speaking of Keith McGuire

We expect those in the teaching profession to care for our children as their own and we should expect no less. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There is always the John Mark Karr or Debra Lafave. When any teacher takes a sexual interest in his or her student, we are just that more wary of them all, sometimes judging them wrongly.

How do we know the difference between an innocent touch and something more sinister? How can we judge the intent of a teacher we barely know? More importantly, what happens if we're wrong? When there's two, or perhaps three, sides to every story, how can we discern the truth from fiction?

Such is the case of Brian Keith McGuire, a Lauderdale County native, now free on bond of $125,000.00 and facing a 1st Degree Rape trial in December. The son of Bobby and Jo McGuire of Lexington, Keith attended Lexington School for 12 years. By all accounts he was an average student and better than average athlete. His parents had helped establish the Lexington Rescue Squad, and his mother was held in high esteem by the community. Bobby, the current mayor of the small Lauderdale County town, was a strong presence in both the town and his own home. Those familiar with the family generally acknowledged that the soft-spoken Jo deferred to her husband.

Keith, as his parents called him, also deferred to his father, but adolescence brought changes in the youth. Physically resembling his mother, Keith boasted a shock of red hair and an outgoing personality. Sometime after elementary school, Keith began to call himself Fox, a name that still follows him. Whether because of his auburn coloring or his fancied desirability to the opposite sex, Keith was well-pleased with this new persona. Many in the Lexington community describe him as the all-American boy, but others began to see a darker side as McGuire grew to manhood.

Graduating from Lexington High School in 1978, Keith McGuire seemed at loose ends. No longer the high school jock, he began a career as a barber, but was always dissatisfied away from the lime light of athletics. Ending one's education after high school was not unusual in the rural atmosphere of Lexington, but other things about McGuire troubled some in the small town. Still others saw nothing wrong with boys being boys or sewing a few wild oats.

In the autumn of 1992, McGuire returned to college at Athens State University, receiving his teaching degree two years later. Now married to a young woman from a well-respected Greenhill family, McGuire used family influence to secure a coaching job at Clements High School, just across the county line in Limestone. Here Keith McGuire taught Physical Education, but some students began to report that his style of teaching was just too physical, especially where young women were concerned.

To be continued...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dollar Tree "Helping" the Salvation Army

Like many others, I ventured out today, but only to do necessary shopping. As I checked out of the Dollar Tree store adjacent to Southern Market on Florence Boulevard, the clerk asked if I would like to purchase a toy to be "donated" to the Salvation Army Christmas drive.

On the counter sat a bin of small stuffed animals, all made in China and none appearing to be of good quality or design. The clerk pointed to the toys and said that she had sold 40 of these small animals since she clocked in; another clerk had sold 60 during her shift.

While I contribute to needy children through my church and Safeplace, I was curious as to how this worked, especially since she had mentioned the price of $1.00. The clerk went on to explain that for every dollar I gave, Dollar Tree would donate a stuffed animal to the toy drive. I politely declined.

The English language is constantly evolving, and perhaps the word "donate" has taken on new meaning while I wasn't looking. I fail to see how the Dollar Tree is donating anything if Shoals area shoppers are purchasing these animals at retail price. If the Dollar Tree really wanted to donate to this cause, I would suggest they offer the toys at their price, probably around fifty cents.

If readers wish to donate to a worthy cause, may I recommend Safeplace. This organization takes care of battered women and children, not just at the holidays, but year round. Kudos to them.

What's up with this: A Sheffield grand jury has refused to indict the woman accused of shooting and killing her brother while she was intoxicated. Perhaps those wishing to do away with certain family members should move to Sheffield?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Day of Thanks

Today is our traditional day of Thanksgiving. While there are some who mourn the recent loss of loved ones, most of us are celebrating with friends and family.

Unfortunately, most of us forget to give thanks the other 364 days of the year. We count our blessings only when we sing the old hymn that admonishes us to do so.

I want to challenge all of my readers to the following: The next time you see a shiny new item, whether microwave or ring, toaster or bracelet, don't buy it just because you would like to have it. If your old one will make do, take that money and direct it to a child who has little or nothing. It's not the child's fault if his or her parents have left or if their caregivers spend their money on alcohol or tobacco. You will make a memory for that child forever.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Free Feast This Thanksgiving

For the seventh straight year, Jen's Cafe' will be providing free Thanksgiving meals to one and all. Located at 319 South Pine Street in downtown Florence, Jen's will be open from 11:00 a.m until 6:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

Whether you dine in or take out, you can be sure of a gourmet experience again this year at Jen's. For those who are home bound, call 760-9918 for delivery by Jen's volunteer staff.

Thank you, Jen, for all you do for our community. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

What's up with this: Check out the article by Joey Rushing, Franklin County District Attorney, on Joey really gets around.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Unsolved Murders: Christopher Stanback - Part II

Results of the initial autopsy indicated Chris Stanback had died of head trauma, but offered few clues as to the murderer. Many speculated that the mutilation included castration, making it a very personal crime.

Chris' brother Harold, nicknamed Rudy, was a known drug dealer. The two brothers bore more than a slight resemblance to each other; was it a case of mistaken identity? Just two weeks before his death, Chris had been apprehended in Cullman with a group of older drug dealers. Since Chris had refused to claim the confiscated drugs, was his murder in retaliation?

Perhaps the most bizarre rumor concerned the involvement of prominent Florence officials. It had been widely reported that Chris was dating the daughter of a high ranking city employee. Everyone close to the situation knew this single father had expressed grave concerns about the relationship. Had this official recruited police chief Rick Thompson to help him dispose of the problem?

Weeks turned into months, and there was still no answer to the mystery of Chris' death. Various local officials offered a $10,000.00 reward in the case, and Chris' uncle promised a matching amount if anyone could help solve the crime. Eventually local police asked the FBI to investigate, calling it a possible hate crime. Years passed, and officials were still no closer to an answer.

The Stanback family remained determined to bring the murderer to justice. Hearing that Chris' age classified the crime as a child murder, they asked the Center for Missing and Exploited Children to enter the case. In April 2003, Chris Stanback's body was exhumed for a second autopsy, but the results offered no new evidence. Several Florence police officers took polygraph tests at this time; all of them passed. The investigation was back to square one.

Currently, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the Stanback murder, considering it one of their top priorities. Teresa Stanback still places reward posters around the area and hopes that someone will come forward after fourteen years. She laments that her son's grave has been repeatedly vandalized. Some days it's hard for her to find the strength to go on, but she has never given up hope.

This case has often been compared to that of Emmitt Till, the young black man murdered in 1950s Mississippi. Emmitt's murderers were eventually found; let's hope Chris' are too.

What's up with this: Quinn Ranch, a home for orphaned and problem boys in Red Bay, is sponsoring a deer hunt for the youths in January. Who came up with the idea of teaching these troubled boys how to use guns?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Unsolved Murders: Christopher Stanback - Part I

Chris Stanback's MySpace profile lists his age as 31, but his photograph is that of a 17 year-old boy, the age at which the Colbert County teenager died. The accompanying short bio prominently features the $20,000.00 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, evidence of the desperation haunting the Stanback family for the past 14 years.

The summer of 1994, Christopher Stanback, known to his friends as Chris, returned from his home in Idaho to spend the summer with his mother Teresa, brother Harold, and sister Tara. On August 2, 1994, Teresa Stanback reported her son missing. Four days later, two children playing in a wooded area near the Carver Heights housing project found a body.

Speculation that the body was Chris' spread throughout the West Florence neighborhood, and soon a crowd of over one hundred spectators had gathered to watch Florence Police retrieve the remains. Many in the crowd of predominately young males tossed rocks and bottles at the authorities as they tried to move the body without disturbing any forensic evidence. Helicopters hovered overhead, their presence having no discernible effect on the crowd that was rapidly growing into a mob.

It had been less than three months since Florence Police officers had conducted a nighttime raid on the black neighborhood, arresting numerous drug dealers in what then Florence Police Chief Rick Thompson had dubbed Operation Copy Cat. To most of the gathering mob, Chris Stanback's death was just more proof that the police couldn't be trusted. Fortunately, local black leaders managed to control the growing crowd when authorities couldn't. Once the barrage of rock and bottle missiles halted, police retrieved the body and secured the scene.

Those who saw Chris Stanback's body realized that more than four days of summer sun had left an imprint on the murdered youth. What an autopsy later determined to be the results of a combination of beating and mutilation, the police took to be evidence that the body had been burned before it was disposed of. While their initial finding may have been easily explained under the circumstances, it only served to enforce the black community's opinion of the Florence Police Department: Truth was the last thing on their minds.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Unsolved Murders: Tommy Morris

Law enforcement officials in the tri-county area currently list a backlog of 15 unsolved homicides. The oldest of these is the murder of Tommy Morris, a 35 year-old special education instructor from Lauderdale County.

On the evening of October 17, 1986, Tommy Morris forwarded his phone to a sister's home and left his apartment in the University District of Florence; he was never again seen alive. By the next day, his two sisters became concerned enough to report him missing to the Florence Police, who initially dismissed the family's fears.

Deciding to take matters into their own hands, family members found Morris' car three days later near the intersection of Natchez Trace Parkway and Waterloo Road. The car had been torched, and authorities called to the scene found Morris' body locked in the trunk.

Tommy Morris had taught at Lauderdale County High School before transferring to Wilson a short time before his death. Morris, who was generally considered someone with designer tastes, also worked at Shankey's and Caster-Knott in Regency Square Mall. The school teacher, known for his elaborate wardrobe and expensive dental work, had friends in both high and low circles--a situation that made the investigation into his personal life that much more difficult. It was even rumored at the time that authorities videotaped Morris' funeral, but all inquiries lead to dead ends.

Rich Thigpen, a former Rogersville resident who remembered Morris from Lauderdale County High School, speculated on the teacher's death. Writing in Prism Comics' online magazine, the openly gay Thigpen theorized that Morris' closeted lifestyle had contributed to his death. Whatever the motive, the murder was especially brutal and stood out to the detectives assigned to the case.

Charles Ford and Charles Perkins, Lauderdale County investigators, have since retired and handed the investigation over to Jr Witt. Since late 2005, Witt has received at least two new leads and still hopes to solve the mystery of Tommy Morris' death. Anyone with information concerning this crime should contact Witt at the Lauderdale County Sheriff's office.

What's up with this: Barring extremely good sales the last week of this month, Dillard's is set to lay off as many as 30% of its sales staff. It gives new meaning to "Black Friday."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alabama Blogs

Several readers have commented on the need for political blogs in our area. I hope this blog/column meets some of the needs of the Shoals, but obviously, the Shoals area is affected by statewide events as well as those in the Quad-Cities.

Some blogs of note, both conservative and liberal, focusing on statewide politics:


A Bama Blog

Alabama Improper

Alabama Legislative Outtakes

Eating Alabama

Left in Alabama

Daily Dixie

Loretta Nall

Pam's House Blend

Doc's Political Parlor

Locust Fork

I hope readers will take the time to examine various online content and add to their favorites list. Unfortunately, blogs are often the only medium reporting the underbelly of Alabama politics.

What's up with this: Alabama=Equality is about to begin a statewide campaign to revamp the State's marriage laws. One board member lives in Florence, so be prepared for the advent of local ads.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Florence Police Department

When both natives and visitors critique Florence, they invariably mention problems at the Florence Police Department. Obviously many who have harsh words for the law enforcement officers have been caught in compromising situations and cannot provide an unbiased view; however, this is not always the case.

Sources in the department itself frequently complain of absent deputy chiefs, and those working with the municipal court system relate tales of the low morale within the department. These problems are long standing and will in all likelihood not be remedied by any quick fixes.

However, the problems reported by many area drivers can be easily corrected. Almost universally, those citizens pulled over for routine traffic stops report rude or other inappropriate behavior from Florence officers. No driver should have to ask three times why he or she has been stopped, and no citizen should be subjected to the remark, "You aren't from around here, are you?"

Chief Rick Singleton can easily attend to this situation. A few classes in simple correct protocol and good manners will go a long way.

What's up with this: It's been reported that the Franklin County Drug Task Force raided a home in Russellville last night and held a gun to the head of a nineteen year-old quadriplegic. They must really feel good about themselves.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bellgreen Cops

They're rough...they're tough...and they're silly. They're the Bellgreen Cops.

If you haven't yet viewed any Dirrty Apple videos, you've been missing a real treat. Founded in Franklin County in 2002, this small company specializes in short comedies. Perhaps Dirrty Apple's best known works are those featuring a group of comedic cops set in the rural Franklin County town of Bellgreen, hometown to the producers.

Currently there are six Bellgreen Cop videos, the last shot just last month at Florence's Renaissance Faire. Our two favorites feature a perp with a very unusual weapon and the hunt for a retro criminal that takes our heroes to the metropolitan city of Russellville.

Dirrty Apple founders include Daniel Horton, Sharla Horton, Brian Rodgers, and Jonathan Borden. These talented young film/video makers now live in Huntsville, where they continue to expand their portfolio of humor. Besides YouTube, you can view these videos at their website or via their new pod casting endeavor.

Give them a look and you'll be hooked. Be sure to sign their guest book while there and tell them that Shoalanda sent you.

What's up with this: Sources close to the Florence zoning department say the release of information concerning environmental contamination at the former Richards' Metal Plating Company has put the nails in the coffin of the Sweetwater Entertainment District. Wasn't that unofficially buried long ago?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Scott Carrier - A Friend to Florence, Alabama

Florence has lost a friend with the passing of Scott E. Carrier. Whether one supported Mr. Carrier in his bid for mayor or not, no one can deny that he placed his hometown first.

From Veterans Park to Florence Public Library, from the historic district to the town's outskirts, Scott Carrier worked to make his hometown a better place. A close friend of Governor Bob Riley, Carrier never hesitated to travel to Montgomery to argue the city's case.

After serving District 2 for four years, Carrier lost his first mayoral race less than three months ago. I say first since those close to him felt he would again rise in the city's political circles. What he could have accomplished had he been able to do so, we can never know, but we can look back fondly and with admiration on what he did help bring to fruition.

Sources say that his family and close friend Matt Osborne have been deeply saddened by Carrier's sudden death. Our sincerest sympathies to all those close to Mr. Carrier.

What's up with this: Ben T. Gardner, current Sheffield City Attorney, is said to be chomping at the bit to take the City of Tuscumbia to court over its dismissal of Carol Burns. Perhaps they should charge admission?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hospice Wars

"When the hospice wars are over, we'll be the last one standing." - Sharon Ward O'Neal, Administrator/Clinical Nursing Director, A&E Hospice

If Andy Eddins, owner of A&E Hospice in Florence, fails in his attempt to have State administered Medicare and Medicaid funding reinstated, he will hardly be out of business. Eddins is also the owner of A&E Medical Equipment in Florence, Dura-Med in Batesville, Mississippi, A&E Hospice in Olive Branch, Mississippi, and Volunteer Hospice in Waynesboro, Tennessee.

Eddins first established the Florence hospice in April 2001. As of last week, the hospice employed 25 medical and support personnel and served 60 patients. Rumors had been circulating for weeks that A&E would soon merge with Tennessee Valley Hospice, but no one was prepared for the State's revocation of funding on November 5. Eddins has 90 days in which to appeal the State's ruling; however, officials began hinting yesterday that they would also seek the revocation of his business license.

Eddins, a frequent contributor to the Alabama Republican Party, is known for his charitable work, both in the Shoals and abroad. Each year Eddins heads a mission team from Underwood Baptist Church. Working under the banner of Baptist Medical and Dental Missions International, Eddins and his team are scheduled to travel to Honduras the first week in August of next year for another foray into jungle medicine. Eddins and his A&E staff have also been heavily involved with DreamCatchers, a group that fulfils the last wishes of terminally ill patients.

Doubtless the proliferation of hospices in the Shoals area has played a role in this development, but sources close to the medical group say that more revelations will be forthcoming. As of September 24, 2008, A&E Hospice lost its Better Business Bureau accreditation. The Alabama Department of Health is expected to release a follow-up statement within the week.

No matter the outcome, Mr. Eddins and A&E Hospice have always provided exemplary patient care. If Eddins is unable to meet the State's demands, his company will be missed.

What's up with this: Just who informed the Sheffield City Council that they had illegally appointed former Mayor Billy Don Anderson to the Utility Board? Pity the person didn't come forward before the schism within the current council.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why No Home Rule in Alabama?

Alabama is one of thirteen states to deny home rule to its counties; it is one of only two states to deny home rule to its municipalities, the other being Vermont. Our recent non-scientific poll garnered 60% of the votes in favor of home rule, with 25% opposed, and 15% having no opinion.

Our current state constitution prohibits towns and counties from much self-government. This can be changed only by a special amendment or a new constitution. The two major objections to home rule over the years have been taxing and zoning. Cities already have the right to tax, and with the majority of voters living in incorporated towns, any new county taxes are unlikely.

When questioned, citizens usually fear county zoning regulations much more than the remote possibility of new taxes. Yet a lack of zoning often costs county residents more freedom than zoning laws themselves. If faced with an unwanted enterprise, most county citizens will choose annexation to a nearby town rather than endure a sewage treatment plant or pig farm.

Write or call your county commissioners. Fax or e-mail your state representatives. Alabama will never prosper to the fullest without home rule for its cities and counties.

What's up with this: A reader e-mailed us concerning our series on Jennifer Bragg's murder in Lexington. He finds the small town riddled with financial problems and corruption, a situation not being helped by its new mayor Bobby McGuire. The mayor's son Keith is currently under indictment for various crimes including rape. Yet, McGuire was unopposed for this position. Why?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Murder in Lexington - Part III

"I couldn't think of a better place to raise children. We have no crime in this town." - Clint Freeman

When paramedics arrived at the Shapley home on County Road 51, they found Jennifer Bragg lying across the bed in the master bedroom, a gun nearby. Shaun Shapley told of Jennifer's intention to commit suicide and how he had valiantly tried to stop her. When later questioned, Kimberly Shapley admitted to being in a nearby room, unaware of the events that claimed her daughter's life, but insistent on the kind of father Shaun had been to her children.

Upon arrival at ECM Hospital, Jennifer was pronounced dead. Both paramedics and medical personnel at the hospital noted that the gunshot had blown off two of Jennifer's fingers--an unusual wound in a suicide. When Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly became aware of the odd circumstances in Jennifer's death he ordered an autopsy. The results of the post mortem indicated Jennifer died by manual strangulation, not a gun shot wound. Lauderdale County Deputies arrested Shaun Shapley on Monday, February 11th.

Held in the Lauderdale County Detention Center on $500,000.00 bail, Shaun Shapley vehemently denied any part in Jennifer's death. Kimberly Shapley stood by her man, requesting he be allowed to attend Jennifer's funeral and listing him as Jennifer's father in the obituaries. Jennifer was buried on Wednesday, February 13th. Two days later Kimberly arrived at Lexington High School to clean out her daughter's locker. Refusing any help, Kimberly Shapley boxed up her daughter's possessions and carted them away without letting anyone else view her daughter's personal effects.

A judge appointed attorney Joseph Daniel to defend Shapley, who was found to be indigent by the court. Unhappy with Daniel, Kimberly Shapley, who had requested funds for funeral expenses in Jennifer's obituary, began selling her possessions in order to retain another attorney. Kimberly Shapley soon contacted Jim Stansell of Rogersville, an attorney known for frequently defending those accused of sex crimes.

For whatever reason, Shapley was not arraigned until November 13th. Stansell spoke for his client and proclaimed him "not guilty." Judge Mike Jones scheduled Shapley's trial for February 9, 2009--a year and two days after Jennifer's murder. As Shaun Shapley left the courtroom in his regulation green jumpsuit he turned to blow kisses at Kimberly Shapley who had come to support him. No one was present on Jennifer Helen Bragg's behalf.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Murder in Lexington - Part II

"I couldn't think of a better place to raise children. We have no crime in this town." - Clint Freeman

Lexington sits in the northeast corner of Lauderdale County. A town of less than 800 citizens, the rural community boasts only four residents describing themselves as non-Caucasians, none of them black. For someone like Shaun Shapley, Lexington must have appeared the perfect community. Older residents have no trouble remembering when outsiders made sure they left the town before sundown, but Shapley's good ol' boy persona ensured him a measure of acceptance.

The family rented a small home on County Road 51, just two miles southeast of the building that houses both the Lexington Town Hall and the Police Department. Two blocks to the east of Town Hall sits Lexington High School where Jennifer enrolled and quickly made friends. Both Jennifer's classmates and teachers relate that she did well and was enrolled in the Upward Bound Program, requiring her to take classes at Shoals Community College in Muscle Shoals. Lexington Principal Will Joiner commented that Jennifer knew where she wanted to go and was determined to make her dreams come true.

If her days in school were full and rewarding, her home life was less so. One of three children, Jennifer had been forced to move often, first with her mother Kimberly and then with Shaun Shapley after her mother's marriage. Her father's family had lost track of the three youths, only learning of their whereabouts after Jennifer's murder. Jennifer's older brother had joined the military to escape life with Shapley, but her older sister remained in the household. At age 19, the sister was the unmarried mother of two small children, a situation that had already garnered much community speculation. Only days before her death, Jennifer had told friends at Lexington High School that she had made plans to leave her home, but not before she reported her stepfather's unwanted advances to the proper authorities.

On the night of February 7, 2008, while her classmates were enjoying time with family and making plans for the upcoming Valentine's holiday parties, Jennifer Bragg found herself alone with her stepfather in the master bedroom. Shaun Shapley is the only living individual who has knowledge of the events that took place in that bedroom, but the vibrant, healthy teenage girl who walked into that bedroom left it on a gurney, her trachea collapsed and her hand and stomach bleeding from the gunshot of a .44 calibre weapon. Jennifer Bragg died at ECM Hospital later that night.

To be continued...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Murder in Lexington - Part I

"I couldn't think of a better place to raise children. We have no crime in this town." - Clint Freeman

When Jennifer Helen Bragg and her family moved to Lexington, Alabama, friends say she finally felt she had found a home. On the night of February 7, 2008, 17 year-old Jennifer died at ECM Hospital, ostensibly the victim of her stepfather, Shaun Clovis Shapley. The 44 year-old Shapley is currently being held on $500,000.00 bond in the Lauderdale County Detention Center; his trial is scheduled for February 9, 2009. At his arraignment November 13th, Shapley pleaded not guilty.

Shaun Clovis Shapley, sometimes referred to as Shaun Glouis, was no stranger to the judicial system. Before moving to Alabama, Shapley lived in the Polk/Hardee County metropolitan area of Florida. The oft-married Shapley was regularly in court as both defendant and plaintiff.

While still living in Florida, Shapley had been in prison three times for various crimes including felony assault, the victims usually women. On the night of May 8, 2000, Shapley was intoxicated and began to follow a black couple who managed to contact police. Having been informed that the pair was being pursued by "a crazy man," police gave chase and attempted to arrest Shapley when he pulled into a parking lot. Shapley, whose pickup was adorned with Confederate symbols, told arresting officers that he was chasing his girlfriend and another man.

Doubtful of his story, officers attempted to arrest the obviously intoxicated Shapley, who resisted. Shapley, already married to Jennifer's mother, claimed numerous violations of his civil rights and sued the arresting Polk County officers. A judge subsequently dismissed the suit as frivolous.

The next year Shapley brought suit against the State of Florida for violations of his civil rights in conjunction with several child support cases that had been filed against him. He included ex-wife Kathleen White of Winterhaven, Florida, in the suit for sixty-four million dollars. This suit was also dismissed, and Shapley told sources at the local NewsChief that his record had worked against him. The Polk County paper stated at that time, "Shapley admits he has married his own cousins in the past."

In late 2001, Shapley and Jennifer's mother Kimberly left Florida for Huntsville, Alabama, where they hoped to find jobs. After more arrests in Huntsville, the Shapleys decided to move again, this time to Florence, where they found Section Eight housing. Mary Kennedy, director of the Section Eight program for the Florence Housing Authority has declined to discuss the reasons for the Shapley family's eviction, but Shaun Shapley again saw an opportunity for some quick cash and filed suit for two million dollars against the Authority and HUD. This suit was also dismissed as frivolous, leaving the family broke and looking for a place to stay. They soon found a new home in Lexington, Alabama.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lack of County Mental Health Officers

Most larger Alabama cities and towns require a trained mental health officer to be on call at all times. Unfortunately, this is not the case with many county law enforcement departments.

In 2003 this situation proved deadly for Lauderdale County resident Brian Long. The 46 year-old son of semi-retired surgeon Robert Long was a paranoid schizophrenic and off his meds when Dr. Long called authorities for help. Deputy Jimmie Ray Slaton Jr. responded to Dr. Long's call, leaving his patrol car door open and keys in the ignition as he approached the younger Long.

Deputy Slaton, according to Dr. Long, then approached Brian, presented handcuffs and announced that he was taking him to jail. Obviously this is not the right approach to take with a paranoid individual, but Slaton, untrained in mental health procedures, stated he was not aware of that at the time. A panicked Brian Long ran to the open patrol car, locked himself in, and proceeded to back out of the driveway. Jimmie Ray Slaton then fired three shots, not at the tires, but at Brian Long, who was killed.

Robert Long sued Lauderdale County and Jimmie Ray Slaton Jr., but his suit was later dismissed. The judge ruled that Slaton could not be expected to know mental health procedure and was attempting to prevent Long escaping into the community. One can only imagine what the judge and Slaton's superiors privately thought about such carelessness that resulted in the death of Brian Long.

Obviously all law enforcement agencies need a mental health officer. This is something for which the National Alliance for Mental Illness has long lobbied. NAMI in the Shoals is represented by Roy Skipworth (766-0306) and John Pinion (766-3966). Anyone wishing to help this organization with its fight for improved mental health laws or in need of assistance with a mentally ill family member is urged to call.

What's up with this: The Muscle Shoals intersection of Avalon and Broadway has been closed due to construction for almost a month, yet the traffic light remains functioning. Perhaps the powers that be in Muscle Shoals just want to be sure passing motorists have ample time to inspect their tax dollars at work?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ford is Wise, but Wise Isn't Ford

The Bible says it's better to work for less than one's worth than not to work at all. Apparently that bit of scripture is unknown to union bigwigs at Wise Metals in Colbert County.

Employees of Ford Motor Company in Detroit have agreed to a new contract that includes a pay cut for union workers, but union officials at Wise apparently don't consider this an option. After all, it's easier to blame Joe Pampinto than themselves. Barring that, perhaps they can foist some of the blame on David Bronner for choosing not to supplement the 125 million of RSA funds already invested in the struggling company.

No one wants to take a pay cut, but neither does anyone want to see Wise abandon its local operations. If these are the only choices, the pay cut looks good.

What's up with this: Sources say Franklin County pol Jack Harris has three days to remove his campaign signs or be cited for littering. Promises, promises...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day 2008

Ninety years ago the guns fell silent on the Western Front. Today we still mark this anniversary of the Armistice, calling it Veterans Day and honoring all those who have served to protect our country and its freedoms. Unfortunately, World War I was not the "war to end all wars," and today our country fights on many fronts to maintain our liberty, daily adding names to the list of United States veterans.

To all veterans reading this today, I salute you and I thank you. Some readers have submitted names of friends and relatives that they would like to honor on this day. I hope those listed know how much we appreciate them.

Haymond Brown Jr. - Iuka - Viet Nam - Paratrooper with the 101st Airborne

Frank Buckles - Charles Town, West Virginia - WWI - Ambulance driver in France and last living World War I veteran

Dean Farmer - Center Star - Served with the Military Police in Turkey

Conred P. Joiner - Lexington - WWII - Fought in the Battle of the Bulge

Lofton C. Morgan - Florence - WWII - Slept in a pup tent filled with water at Guadalcanal

Willard Patterson - Atlanta - WWII - Bridge builder with Corps of Engineers

Euell W. Stutts - Greenhill - WWII - Fought in Germany


The Major - He protected us from Communism

Monday, November 10, 2008

Voice of the Shoals Forum

Voice of the Shoals, the area's newest forum, is the winner in our readers' poll. Commanding 65% of the vote, almost half the registered members of VOS voted to make this forum number one. This site is obviously not just popular, but commands loyalty.

Politics doesn't play a strong role in this stringently moderated, PG rated forum, but it is still in its infancy and will obviously evolve as others have over the months to come. Someone recently commented that this forum is like Sunday dinner with family--altogether a welcome change from the heated arguments one finds on other sites.

Voice of the Shoals offers Classifieds and Advice, as well as more traditional topics, and like other forums has its unique posters. The two administrators have obviously worked hard to make this a welcoming place. One caveat: If you try it, you may become addicted.

What's up with this: Sources tell us that former Lexington mayor Gerald McGee has discontinued operations at the Springfield Water Company. Hopefully, the Lauderdale Teachers' Credit Union will find a new buyer and recoup some of its customers' six million dollar loss.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The TimesDaily Forum

The TimesDaily forum placed second in our favorites poll. For several years, the TD had offered a readers forum online, but in November 2006 the Florence-based newspaper initiated an easier to use model powered by eve, a state-of-the-art program for managing online media. Since that time, the TD forum has grown to over seven thousand registered users. Of course, not all who register contribute regularly to the forum, but on any given day the TD forum will outdo other local venues in its visitor count.

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Hoekenga took over the position of media editor and, with it, the directorship of the forum. Miss Hoekenga has made broad changes in the forum design, not all of them eagerly accepted by forum users. Perhaps it's this reason that the the TD forum placed only second in our poll, but despite user issues, this forum remains the ultimate stop for those interested in pithy political issues, both local and national.

With the large number of users has come censorship issues that some readers have referred to as "draconian." Those who use the TD forum should remember that the newspaper and its parent company, the New York Times, take liability issues seriously. Those who post should also remember to place topics in the appropriate section or return to find them moved at best or deleted at worst.

For all the bureaucracy and user complaints, the TD forum remains the go-to source for much of what's happening in the Shoals. It might not be a fun place, but it is informative.

What's up with this: Let's hope the two new Lauderdale County Commissioners are aware that all floors of the new courthouse annex are illuminated 24 hours a day. If readers see this as a waste, please feel free to contact them and tell them that Shoalanda sent you.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Exclusive with Tuscumbia's Carol Burns

Note: Our series on Shoals area forums will continue tomorrow.

Earlier this week Tuscumbia Mayor Billy S. Shoemaker dismissed City Clerk Carol Burns, ostensibly due to misconduct. I spoke with Mrs. Burns today, finding her an articulate and charming lady. Obviously due to legal constraints, Mrs. Burns isn't able to comment on these charges directly, but she did relate her feelings on the current situation in Tuscumbia.

Mrs. Burns served in the Tuscumbia Police Department for sixteen years and hoped to retire there. As a major in the department, she was state president of D.A.R.E. and immensely enjoyed her work with the community. Mrs. Burns commented that making Tuscumbia safe was always her top priority.

While making plans for the future, life often gets in the way, and the retirement of former clerk Flora Hanback offered Mrs. Burns an opportunity she couldn't ignore. Despite her desire to serve in the police department, she realized the clerk's office provided safety and security that was lacking in law enforcement. The position had not been open for 34 years, and Mrs. Burns considered it a "once in a lifetime opportunity" and accepted the lateral transfer.

Asked about the charges and her reaction to them, Mrs. Burns wants the community to know that she did nothing wrong and she hopes the upcoming investigation will prove that. Throughout our interview, Mrs. Burns made her faith in God and His providence clear, and I wish her well in her future endeavors.

I will note here that Carol and her husband Wayne own and run the Thunderhill Race Track in Summertown, Tennessee. Carol wanted me to invite the public to its annual Christmas race in December. Admission is one item of non-perishable food and a gift for a child under the age of 14. Local ministries help the Burnses distribute these items to needy families in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. Last year the Christmas race enabled them to help 135 families. For more information, you may call 931-964-2120.

Thank you, Mrs. Burns, for what you do for our community. I wish you well in your future efforts.

What's up with this: It seems the town of Killen is now providing scoops to the local papers concerning its council members--As the Sewage Turns?

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Shoals Forum on Free Forums

The lightly moderated Shoals Forum, hosted by Free Forums, came in third in our poll with 10% of the vote. Not happy with the varying degrees of censorship on the TimesDaily Forum, some former and current members founded the Shoals Forum as a place where individuals could feel free to speak their minds without fear of reprisals. It may not be the largest in the area, but the Shoals Forum has grown steadily and commands loyalty from its members.

While offering the usual News and Politics topics, the Shoals Forum also offers Classifieds, Humor, and Trivia. The classified ads are free, and the jokes are uncensored--so beware, but be prepared to laugh. Several members visit the forum strictly for its trivia contests--another warning here, these contests are addictive. A lot of work has gone into making this forum work, and I encourage everyone to take a look.


Please remember to contact us with the names of those living veterans you would like remembered this holiday. Our November 11th column will honor those whose names you submit as well as pay tribute to all veterans.

What's up with this: Deborah Bell Paseur seems intent on making the State of Alabama pay for a needless recount in her Supreme Court race with Greg Shaw. All Alabama voters should remember this if she should ever consider running for another post.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The ShoalsInsider Forum

The ShoalsInsider Forum came in fourth in our poll with 5% of the vote. One of the area's newest forums, the ShoalsInsider is rapidly making a name for itself. If you haven't yet visited this site, you've missed a real treat.

Besides the forum, the ShoalsInsider offers court records, obituaries, and breaking news; it was the ShoalsInsider that first reported the disappearance of Jennifer Hampton. This site fills a long-standing void by offering news that the TimesDaily elects to omit. Like other forums, the SI venue features unique posters and is an essential element in gauging the area's political climate.

Our "What's Up?" feature recently mentioned Jim Fisher's absence from the TimesDaily. Jim has contacted us and wants his many readers to know that he didn't willingly desert them. It seems that his election to the Florence School Board prohibits him from employment with the TD. You can still partake of Jim's expertise at Excel Computers on Florence Boulevard. All the best, Jim, in your new position!

What's up with this: Lauderdale District Attorney Chris Connolly is insisting on a second trial for manic mother Rosie Ingram--our tax dollars shouldn't be going to retry a weak case. It's a pity that Connolly places his vanity before the citizens of Lauderdale County.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Local Forums - Shoals on

The late broadcaster Dick Biddle would end his editorials each weekday with the following: Be a good American; be an informed American. One of the best ways to gauge events and political activity in the Shoals is to read the local forums. The Shoals area is blessed with several, five of which were recently featured in a poll on this site.

The Shoals Forum on received no votes as a favorite forum--that does not mean no one reads it. Each forum has unique posters; therefore this site should be bookmarked along with the more popular forums/blogs in order to obtain a complete picture of the Shoals. forums are among the oldest and don't offer the more sophisticated formats or ease of navigation; but, again, don't pass up on this particular venue, especially if you're a sports fan.

What's up with this: Lauderdale Commissioner-elect Rhea Fulmer describes herself as a self-employed photographer, yet the TimesDaily has repeatedly referred to her as a homemaker...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Teacher Sex in Alabama

If you think the title of today's column concerns student voyeurs clandestinely peering into the bedrooms of married teachers, you're behind the times, especially in Alabama. Starting today, you'll be able to check the TeacherCrime link to the left of this blog; and, while you won't be able to see if ol' Mrs. McGonagill from third grade is still jay-walking, you will be able to determine which teachers in this and other states have been arrested for sex crimes.

Of course, these are just the ones we know about. Unfortunately, Alabama still does not perform complete background checks on prospective teachers. This may change in the not too distant future. One Shoals resident has worked to correct this problem for some time and will soon launch a statewide campaign to weed out these offenders. In the months to come, this column will keep you up to date on the status of this project.

In the mean time, be vigilant about your children's safety. Sometimes the worst predators are those we trust the most.

What's up with this: Check out the Alabama teacher list for one of our own from Lauderdale County.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Free Flu Shots Wednesday

The Shoals Community Clinic, in conjunction with the University of North Alabama School of Nursing, will be giving free flu vaccinations Wednesday from 8:00 a.m until 3:00 p.m. The annual health fair also features free TB tests, vision screenings, and blood glucose checks. Those who participate in four or more activities receive a free goody bag.

The clinic is located just west of Downtown Florence in Handy Homes off Cherokee Street. Open to any members of the working public not having health insurance, the clinic charges a minimal fee of $15.00 for regular visits, which can be scheduled during the health fair.

The clinic also accepts donations of money and supplies, all of which are tax deductible. Stop by and experience what a little money and a lot of hard work can do.

What's up with this: Isn't it unusual that a District Attorney and two Circuit Court Judges would all recuse themselves from an upcoming rape trial?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lauderdale/Colbert Superintendent Races

As with state judges, county Superintendents of Education are elected in Alabama. This year both Lauderdale and Colbert races are hotly contested, each having independent candidates attempting to unseat the incumbents. While Lauderdale County has one city system, Colbert has three, and voters residing within these city systems may freely vote in the county elections. In other words, the system has been broken from day one and is not serving the needs of families living in rural areas.

In Lauderdale, the current superintendent has only a masters degree and has been accused of favoritism. His opponent has even less education and has been accused of riding on his semi-famous father's coat tails. The Colbert election has also garnered wide attention from the voters; rumors rampant on both sides, with the race issue adding fuel to the mix.

In the four local city systems, the practice of appointing superintendents has worked well for some time. These appointed officials are free from much of the political influence that dominates the county offices and serve much longer terms. Continuity in such offices is essential for efficiency.

Each registered voter should research his/her choice thoroughly before voting, but more importantly, the voter should write his/her state congressman and senator requesting a change in the manner of County Superintendent selection. Alabama's children deserve no less.

What's up with this: Responding to a recent question, former Franklin County District Attorney John Pilati is currently residing in Seagoville Federal Prison in Texas and is scheduled for release on March 24, 2011.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Billy Don Anderson Rides Again

As one of his last acts in office, outgoing Sheffield Mayor Billy Don Anderson nominated himself for an opening on the Sheffield Utility Board. Council members Verna Brennan, Gary Scales, and Waylon Huguley (a Sheffield Police Department Captain) approved the nomination, arguing that Billy Don's previous term on the Board had been cut short by his election as mayor. With three out of five votes, BD won the appointment and is assured of another four years of connections to Sheffield government.

Billy Don Anderson is no stranger to controversy; in 1994 he had a lot of explaining to do when he underestimated and initially underpaid interest to investors in Valley Federal Bank. In 2004, Billy Don angered many connected with the University of North Alabama when he proposed that he and four others should form a mini-financial board to ensure a quorum for UNA financial planning meetings. After all, he said, the entire board didn't wish to be bothered with the actual financial details of the University or be forced to attend cumbersome meetings.

The Sheffield Utility Board meets the last Friday in every month. It may just become the best cheap comedy show around.

What's up with this: The Alabama Swappers club (yes, it's just what you think it is) has advertised that it will host a meeting in Sheffield in early 2009. While Sheffield does need new businesses, I don't think this is what Ian Sanford has in mind.