Court Has Power To Remove Alabama Sheriff

In most states, sheriffs are elected officials who cannot be removed by anyone other than the voters. As Sheriff Luther Clark learned, the rules are different in Alabama.

A year and a half after Clark took office, the Alabama attorney general filed what is known as “an information of impeachment and a prayer for ouster” charging that Clark willfully neglected his duty and engaged in corruption while in office.” The first of the charges against Clark arose when Clark made Rodney Coats, an inmate in the Sumter County Jail, a trusty. Coats had an extensive criminal history for drug-related offenses, and he was placed in jail under criminal charges that were serious enough to result in bail of $675,000.00.

Clark also aided Coats in bringing contraband into the jail by ordering detention officers not to search Coats when he would return to the jail after being outside of the jail and free of law enforcement oversight. The contraband included controlled substances, cell phones, and cigarettes. Clark also protected Coats from shake downs as well as drug sweeps at the jail by outside law enforcement agencies, either by removing Coats from the jail or instructing staff to leave him alone. Clark allowed Coats to have access to firearms, even though Coats had pending charges for first degree assault.

Clark also granted a jail pass to another inmate, who was serving a 10-year sentence. When another inmate escaped from the jail, Clark failed to swear out an arrest warrant or attempt to arrest him. Clark also had inmates working for local businesses on the condition that the inmates pay Clark a portion of their wage. He also was alleged to have used his official position or office to coerce a female employee to have sexual intercourse with him.

The Court cited an Alabama state statute allowing sheriffs to be impeached if they were guilty of “willful neglect of duty” or “corruption in office.” The Court defined a willful neglect of duty as an “intentional failure or omission of an officer to perform a plain and manifest duty which he is able to perform when he omits to do so.” The Court defined “corruption in office” as a “public officer’s corrupt violation of assigned duties by malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance.”

Because it analogized impeachment proceedings to criminal charges, the Court found that it was appropriate to impose a “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden of proof. And by a unanimous decision, it concluded that the State had met its burden of proving all of the significant charges against Clark. The Court ordered “that Sheriff Clark be impeached, and Tyrone Clark, Sr., is hereby ousted from the office of Sheriff of Sumter County, Alabama.”

Strange v. Clark, 2016 WL 4044903 (Ala. 2016).