Headlines News

My story, part 1


For months, I’ve told the folks here at Atmore News I wanted the entire front page when our legal mess was finished. And now, it’s finished. All charges have been dismissed – with prejudice, meaning we cannot be arrested for the same charges.
But as you can see, I didn’t want the entire front page after all. Instead, I want to tell my story – and in part our stories – over more than one article. Not sure how many it will be – maybe just two, more likely several – but I do want the facts out there. Not for revenge – “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord. Not because I’m bitter – I’m more hurt than bitter. People I’ve known for years and considered friends, well, they were not friends after all or at all. Nor were we all working toward the same goal as I thought we were – that goal being working together for the good of our school system, for our administrators, teachers, and support personnel … which in turn is for the good of our students.
I’m writing these articles for a couple of reasons.
One is that what happened to me could happen to you. Since the first arrest last October, several people have said to me, “This happened to you of all people.” Sometimes it was a question. Sometimes a statement of disbelief. But I want you to know what happened to me could happen to you. If you make someone mad who has a little power and they’re willing to use (or in my opinion, misuse that power), this could happen to you or a loved one. Or if you make someone mad who has influence over the person with a little power, this could happen to you.
The second reason I’m writing this is to maybe hold some people accountable. The four of us who were arrested were falsely arrested and our character was defamed. And now that charges are dismissed, well, for some people it’s apparently like it never happened and we all live happily ever after. Not quite.
At the risk of being arrested again (my opinion – charges certainly can be fabricated), I’ll be very specific in these articles and let you know if I’m giving you my opinion or if I’m speculating as to someone’s motives or intentions.
District Attorney Steve Billy charged me on two counts – “revealing grand jury secrets” and ethics violations. I was arrested twice, once for each charge. However, I was also arrested a third time, even though there was not an additional charge. That will be addressed in a future article.
Don Fletcher, Cindy Jackson, and Ashley Fore had one charge each – “revealing grand jury secrets.” I have invited Cindy and Ashley to write about their experiences for Atmore News. Since Don is on staff, the pages are open to him, of course.
The arrests were carried out by deputies in the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office – Sheriff Heath Jackson.
The first legal action against me was the seizing of my cell phone by Deputy Arthur Odom and a deputy I didn’t know on Monday, October 23. I’ll write more about this in a future article. I mention it here because it affects the next encounter I had with the deputies.
In early October, Myrna had fallen and broken her leg. She was in the swing bed program at Atmore Community Hospital when the deputies took my phone on Monday and when they came back Friday, October 27. I was staying with Myrna to help her since she was not under acute care in the swing bed program and needed assistance getting up.
So, that Friday when Deputy Arthur Odom and Deputy Matt Rabren came to Myrna’s hospital room and asked me to step out of the room, I refused. I had stepped out the Monday before when they asked me to, but I was not willing to do that again – I didn’t want to be in a position again with no witnesses.
Odom said they were arresting me and taking me to jail in Brewton. I told Myrna to call Don. One of the deputies (Odom, I think) said if I was talking about Don Fletcher, he was already in jail in Brewton. Odom and Rabren had picked Don up at the Atmore News office. A relay had been set up in which Don was handed off to two other deputies in Flomaton. Then Odom and Rabren came back for me.
I told Myrna to call Wanda Hall to come stay with her in the hospital and to call Charles Jackson, Cindy’s husband. We needed Charles to call Earnie White, the attorney for Don and me and Cindy.
Odom and Rabren arrested me and escorted me to their black SUV in the parking lot. They did have the courtesy not to handcuff me in the hospital, but they handcuffed me when we got in the vehicle. It was a long ride to Brewton. They chatted with each other and occasionally asked me a question, not about my arrest or the charges, and I answered. Strange to try to chitchat in that situation, and I didn’t care for it.
When I was taken inside the jail, I saw Don through a large window in what I assumed was a men’s holding cell. There were several men in the large cell – probably 8 or 10. Don told me later that when he saw me, he thought maybe I was coming to get him out of jail. He looked at me questioningly through the large window, and I held up my hands with the handcuffs on my wrists. If you’ve ever heard the expression “his face fell,” believe me, I saw that in Don. Not because I wasn’t there to get him out, but because I was in handcuffs.
We spent the next several hours in the Escambia County Detention Center – the jail. I will say that everyone I encountered was nice and treated me courteously.
Early in the arrest, I told the officer, the one booking me, my attorney was supposed to meet us at the jail. I soon found out it may work that way on television, but not in real life.
The officer told me there would be no attorney, no judge, that I would be in jail until Monday. Nobody was available on Friday afternoon, he said. I didn’t feel afraid, I didn’t panic – and that was the Good Lord taking care of my emotions.
There was a phone in the booking area where I was waiting, and I was able to call Myrna and let her and Wanda know what was going on. That was a saving grace for me. The officer didn’t seem to mind that I used the phone more than one time. I’m not even sure he realized I was doing that.
I want you to know what it’s like to be arrested and booked into jail, so that will be the remainder of this first article.
For those of you who made the little jokes – calling me jailbird and jailbait; saying, “You mean they let you out of jail!” And to the “friend” who chuckled over the phone about this being “like a big joke” – let me tell you what it’s like to be arrested and booked into the Escambia County jail. And for those “in authority,” and those whose influence caused this to happen, to the school board members who had a part in this, imagine this is happening to your wife or sister or daughter. For the woman or women who had a part in this, imagine this is happening to you.
I sat on a concrete bench until I was called up to the counter where an officer sat at a computer. I answered his questions – basic stuff. Then at some point, he questioned me about my clothing. Color of my shirt and pants and shoes – which he could see. Then he asked what color bra I had on. And what color panties. And I answered, not realizing at first why he was asking. But I soon found out.
A female officer escorted me to a different area and told me to take my clothes off – all my clothes. She directed me to a shower area and gave me a rag, actually a small piece of fabric that was more holes than rag. And she told me to shower.
At some point, she told me to face her and squat to the floor. When I got up, she told me to turn around with my back to her and squat to the floor. Of course, I knew why I had to do this – in case I had anything (like drugs or a weapon) in a body cavity. If I’d been hiding anything, presumably it would have fallen out when I squatted.
The officer told me to wet my hair in case I had lice.
The front part of the shower was partially enclosed although there was no door. The back part opened onto the hallway. I stood mostly in the open area, always in view of the female officer. One time a male officer walked by and held his hand over the side of his head by his eyes so as not to see me. Another male officer asked the female officer to tell me to move up into the enclosed part of the shower so he could walk by.
There was no soap or shampoo. And when I finished, there was no brush or comb. I’ve often wondered why females look the way they do in mug shots taken at the Escambia County jail. It’s because all you can do is run your fingers through your hair. I understand mug shots are not intended to be pretty and the sheriff’s office makes sure that’s true.
When I finished my “shower,” I was given an orange jumpsuit. My jumpsuit was an extra-large – the only size they had, according to the officer. As you can imagine, it was huge. That was bad enough, but there were snaps missing in the front. I had one snap at the top and another down near my navel – no snaps between.
Bless the officer’s heart, she did roll up the pants legs for me.
I don’t remember about the shoes – probably some type of slip on.
My opinion: Apparently, this is the routine for inmates who are to be locked up for the weekend. I have since found out Sheriff Jackson likes to lock people up late Friday afternoon, so they have to stay the weekend. More than one person has told me this is how he operates – even makes jokes about inmates having to eat his (expletive) hotdogs for three days. I have not heard him say this directly, but I have been told by other people he makes comments about the hotdogs – perhaps meaning all jail food, I suppose.
You can read about “strip searches” on the Internet, including “reasonable suspicion” and bypassing “reasonable suspicion.”
I was escorted through the men’s holding cell to the area where the mug shots are taken. About the mug shots, I was told to stand on a little stool and look at a certain piece of equipment on the wall in front of me. The officer left the room. So, I stood there with no idea when the mug shot was being taken. Then I was escorted back through the holding cell.
A short while later, I was escorted through the men’s cell again for fingerprints, then back out. All the while, I was trying to hold the huge orange jumpsuit pulled closed in front.
In the meantime, Earnie was making phone calls trying to get Don and me released. The judge who signed the arrest warrant told Earnie on the phone, “I’ll have to pray about it.” Five minutes later, he called Earnie back. We don’t know if the judge was praying to his God or to Heath Jackson or to Steve Billy. I could name this judge here, but I won’t just yet.
Later, an officer told me the sheriff had called and we could be released if we could make bond by 6:30. I asked him what time it was then – it was 6:15. Our bond was set at $10,000 each.
I called Myrna and told her to get in touch with Charles Jackson and have him call the jail.
I was placed in a cell by myself. They chose not to put me in the women’s dorm where 25 to 30 women were housed. The cell was pretty much like you see on television. Metal toilet. Graffiti all over the walls – in this case, numerous derogatory statements about Atmore.
Charles pulled off a miracle and got a bondsman out of Bay Minette, then brought the money to the jail to get us released. It must have been about 8 o’clock at that point. Fortunately, the jail had not adhered to the 6:30 deadline but I don’t know why. Charles told me later it was because the bondsman had contacted the jail.
I was given my clothes back and allowed to change. Don never had to shower, but he did have his mug shot taken in the orange shirt.
We waited in the booking area until an officer came and got us and escorted us out of the jail.
Charles was waiting for us in front of the jail and brought us back to Atmore.
When we got back to Atmore, Don posted our arrests with mug shots on Facebook.
The next day, October 28, was Williams Station Day in Atmore. Don and I walked the street together. We encountered overwhelming support from everyone who knew of our arrests. It was the first of many, many such shows of support we received from all over the country. In my opinion, everyone in the country except Steve Billy knew our arrests were unconstitutional – but maybe he did know, and it didn’t matter.
Keep in mind – I was arrested not because I had physically harmed anyone, I had not stolen anything, I had not threatened anyone. I was arrested because we had printed a newspaper article that made some people mad – people with the power to have us arrested. “Power” – rather, in my opinion, misuse of power.
I have some closing comments about this article.

  • About the jailbird and jailbait remarks, I hated hearing that. “Big joke?” Hardly.
    For a long time, I seethed over all that and would be very happy not to ever see those people again. Part of me still feels that way. You had no idea what I had gone through.
    But what if I knew someone who had been arrested? Would I have made such remarks? Would I have made light of a situation I knew nothing about? I hope not. But if I’m honest, I wonder if I would have.
  • I think what I went through in jail is probably basic protocol – shower, mug shots, fingerprints. There was no reason I should have been treated any differently than everyone else. But I learned later the sheriff (speculation: perhaps with the DA’s input, I don’t know) determines how much or how little is done to an inmate. In my case, I assume it was standard procedure to go through the shower if you’re being booked for the weekend – maybe even overnight, I don’t know.
    But Cindy didn’t have to go through all that, and that was at the sheriff’s direction. Ashley went through much worse.
  • I didn’t know this for a month or so after my arrest. As angry as people were about my arrest, they were just as angry – if not more so – that I was arrested and taken out of Myrna’s hospital room. People still ask me if that’s true. And I tell them, yes, it’s true. And usually they say something like, “We don’t do things like that around here.” But as we found out … yes, they do.

To be continued.