Monday, April 7, 2014

The Buck That Broke Alabama?

Editor’s Note: Have you ever watched an episode of Law & Order that started out as one case, then minutes into the plot, veered into a totally different storyline? The following article on the State’s case against former Muscle Shoals police officer Greg Scoggins is similar to that. This account may be long, but it’s worth reading. In fact, if you make it to the end, there’s quite a bombshell. There will be more on this at a later date:

The 23rd day of December, 2012, was a warm, mild morning. A 200-pound monster buck was grazing in an open field on Tennessee Valley Authority property situated at the intersection of Wilson Dam Road and Second Street in Muscle Shoals. Across Second Street stood a two-story structure, being the City of Muscle Shoals Sewage Water Treatment Plant. The buck, with his harem of six does, made it an everyday practice of grazing that field in the mornings.

Little did the buck know its life would be changed when it intersected with police officer Greg Scoggins of the Muscle Shoals Police Department. Scoggins’ life had changed dramatically in the past fifteen months. He had lost his home, filed bankruptcy, lost every worldly possession including his family pets in a fire at his rental home, and he didn’t have insurance to replace any of his items. Three weeks previous to this encounter with the monster buck, he was served with divorce papers by his wife, kicking him out of his new rental house. Officer Scoggins, a thirteen-year veteran of the Muscle Shoals Police Department, was an avid hunter and had been eying this buck for some months.

It now represented meat on the table, and respite from the mental sadness he had been going through.
Scoggins pulled off of Wilson Dam Road into the field and pulled out a rifle that he had been carrying in the back of the vehicle. A shot at 110 yards felled the buck who ran about forty yards towards Second Street and expired near a fence line which borders the roadway. Unbeknownst to Scoggins, David Moore was working at the Muscle Shoals Sewage Water Treatment Plant and he had watched everything from the boom of the gun to the buck expiring at the fence line. David Moore then spent the next forty minutes on his cell phone trying to get a Conservation Officer, Muscle Shoals Police, Mayor, City Councilman, USA Federal Government Agent, Federal Authorities, or their ABI Agent involved in what had happened.

Moore, who had worked for the City over fifteen years, kept a pair of binoculars handy everyday so he could watch that field daily. His job, extensively, was to watch gauges and gadgets at the Waste Water Plant to make sure the sewage water was treated properly. He had a unique schedule on this Sunday; one in which he could leave the Sewage Waste Water Plant halfway through his shift. He could go to church in Florence and sing in the choir. He took this sabbatical opportunity to follow Scoggins in his patrol car, who was following a red pickup truck. The driver of the red truck had helped Scoggins load the buck into the back of it. The convoy turned at Congress Street and Moore turned and went back to the Waste Water Plant and called the Muscle Shoals Police Department. He told them their police officer was somewhere on Congress Street. Within ten minutes, Sgt. Cedric Morris and Capt. Clint Reck of the Muscle Shoals Police Department showed up and ordered Scoggins back to the station where he was told to turn in his badge and gun belt, and he was put on a three-day administrative leave. While there, Chad Holden, of the Alabama Conservation Department, gave Scoggins three tickets for Reckless Endangerment, Hunting Without Permission, and Hunting By Aid of A Motorized Vehicle.

Scoggins, needing legal representation, hired Tuscumbia attorney Billy Underwood and Florence attorney Johnnie Franks for his criminal and civil problems. He was later to lose an appeal before the Muscle Shoals Civil Service Board to keep his job and appealed that case to the Circuit Court of Colbert County, Alabama.

Underwood and Franks immediately attacked the fact that Scoggins was charged in the District Court of Colbert County and not tried in a United States Federal District Court. The Tennessee Valley Authority was federal property. His attorneys did not know the State of Alabama, through Governor Fob James in 1988, had entered into a strange agreement with the federal government whereby Alabama supposedly accepted back jurisdiction over TVA lands. The agreement would require the State to patrol and police over 600,000 acres of property in North Alabama.

Underwood and Franks, in the criminal cases, immediately filed briefs and requested the criminal cases be dismissed and sent to Federal Court because it was on federal property. Doug Evans, assistant District Attorney in Franklin County, was appointed to prosecute this case. The local District Attorney’s office in Colbert County had decided to opt-out of prosecuting Scoggins. Evans, now with the aid of the Tennessee Valley Authority, happened upon the 1988 agreement between Governor Fob James and the State of Alabama. The agreement stated basically the State of Alabama would accept back, by a word called cession, jurisdiction, rights, privileges, and franchises from the Federal government on all 600,000 acres of property in the northern tier of Alabama. The swath of land covers from Colbert County, on the west state boundary, to Dekalb on the east. The agreement stated the Tennessee Valley Authority shared all jurisdictional powers with the State of Alabama. Years later the Tennessee Valley Authority, in a cost cutting move, withdrew every single TVA police officer in North Alabama from those properties making them basically a bad lands due to the fact there would be no police officers patrolling them.

Muscle Shoals Police and the Colbert County Sheriff’s Department testified they never patrol Tennessee Valley Authority property in Colbert County. During the criminal trial the Honorable Chad Coker, District Judge of Colbert County, Alabama, ruled the 1988 cession of jurisdiction between Governor Fob James and the State of Alabama, was law and the criminal cases could be tried in the District Court of Colbert County. He, however, commented at trial his reluctance as a lowly sitting District Court Judge to find an agreement between the federal government, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Governor of the State of Alabama null and void.

At the end of the trial, Judge Coker found Scoggins not guilty of Reckless Endangerment and Hunting From a Vehicle. He did find him guilty of Hunting on TVA property without permission of the federal government. Underwood and Franks immediately appealed the decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. The legal brief filed by Scoggins’ attorney argued the 1988 cession of land and jurisdiction by the United States government between Governor Fob James and Tennessee Valley Authority was void. His attorneys attacked the wording of the agreement. Even the State’s Attorney General, Luther Strange, agreed the wording of the agreement was incorrect. The State of Alabama, through the Attorney Generals Office, argued “during the thirteen-year period since the agreement was signed, the State of Alabama has exercised concurrent jurisdiction over this property and neither the state nor the federal government had complained.” The Attorney General seemed to say, because there was no dispute between Alabama and the Federal Government, Scoggins should be estopped from nullifying the agreement. Scoggins’ attorneys argued the state legislature had to vote to accept the land.

On the 7th day of March, 2014, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals surprised everyone. It agreed with Scoggins’ attorney that there wasn’t an agreement according to the 1988 cession that Governor Fob James and TVA signed but went a different route and stated there didn’t ever need to be an agreement; that under the Code of Alabama the legislature had stated specifically it will always accept land or jurisdiction of lands the state had ceded to the United States government without any further action of the legislature. It basically gives to the federal government a blanket agreement to deed any properties it wished back to the State of Alabama without the Alabama Legislature voting to accept those lands back into the state. This raises the serious question of “what if the Tennessee Valley Authority decides to deed back to the State of Alabama all the coal ash ponds at their coal stream plants and also decides to deed back from the Hollywood, Alabama Nuclear Plant all its contaminated nuclear waste acreage?” The State of Alabama does not have monies with which to handle and clean up these waste dumps. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals incidentally does not normally rule on civil matters, it being a court to entertain criminal law appeals.

Enter former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Pamela Baschab, who now with Underwood has filed a Motion for a Rehearing the 28th of March, 2014, requesting the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reconsider the ruling in light of the fact that, under Paragraph Five of the statute it was interpreting, stated the State of Alabama Legislature had a right to vote on the 1988 agreement to accept or reject. Baschab has been a jurist on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals for over twelve years and felt this case was one she needed to help correct a wrong. There now is pending in front of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals a Motion for Rehearing with Scoggins’ lawyers stating they will appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court if their motion is denied. As the law now stands, the State of Alabama is at the mercy of the federal government who could deed to the state any property it didn’t want or give jurisdiction to the state properties it wants the state to patrol without Alabama having any legal objection to their grants.

Worth reading, wasn’t it?


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