In the small Alabama town of Castleberry, once a highly profitable speed trap where the police department was five times larger than the national average, a lawsuit accusing the former police chief of theft, false imprisonment, and enforcing a made-up law, may about to be resolved.
More than 20 months have passed since local attorney Richard Nix filed suit against former police chief Tracy Hawsey and the town. During that time the contentious town law, or ordinance, that enabled Hawsey and his officers to pull people over and tow their vehicles for $500 each has been shelved and the police department shrunken from five full-time officers to two part-time officers that work on their days off from their regular jobs.
But the lawsuit, which is expected to be mediated before Christmas, according to Hawsey, remains. And while it may bring restitution to the plaintiffs in the case, some of which have never had their cars or cash returned, it also has the potential to devastate an already struggling Castleberry.
Yeah, I suppose five full-time officers would be quite an expense for a town of 600.
“We’re still terrible financially,” said Mayor Buddy Kirksey, who narrowly beat out the former mayor by just 30 votes during an election a little over two years ago. “The town can’t afford anything like this so right now we’re depending on the insurance companies to pay for it.”
And what of this Hawsey fellow, anyway?
In 2002, Hawsey saw multiple drug bust cases thrown out of by judges after he and his deputies used improper police procedure when entering suspects properties, according to AL.com reporting from the time. Four years later, he stepped down as Conecuh County Sheriff two months before his second term was up, according to the Evergreen Courant. He had just lost a run-off. The resignation was seen at the time as being unprofessional given that deputies under him lost their arresting powers. A new Sheriff was sworn in immediately, only to find that food for inmates at the county jail had run out. New Sheriff, Edwin L. Booker, was forced to use his own money to feed inmates.
Which is not to say Hawsey was loath to spend money:
In 2016, revenues from the court system and the drug towing law, brought in more than $546,000, approximately double from the year before. At the same time, however, payroll for the cops and court quadrupled, according to financial documents.
The city began to accrue new debts, which was compounded by debts incurred by Hawsey’s ambitious plan to grow the police department with personnel, dispatchers, new equipment and at one point five cop cars.
And cop tires, cop suspensions, and cop shocks run into some serious money.