Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin wants a federal judge to let her keep as personal money any unspent funds that she receives for feeding inmates.
Ana FranklinMorgan County Sheriff's Office
Although Alabama sheriffs in general are allowed to keep leftover food fund money, the Morgan County Sheriff's Office has been excluded because of claims Franklin's predecessor underfed the inmates in his care.
Franklin, who is embroiled in a legal battle with the Southern Center for Human Rights, is scheduled for a hearing at the federal courthouse in Decatur on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
At that hearing, the sheriff's attorneys are expected to argue that a years-old consent decree in a lawsuit against the county does not apply to Franklin and she shouldn't be held in contempt. The decree says the Morgan County Sheriff must spend all food funds on inmate meals. The decree was issued in 2009 after Franklin's predecessor was jailed for contempt. Former Sheriff Greg Bartlett was dubbed "Sheriff Corndog" because he profited more than $200,000 while inmates ate corndogs twice a day for weeks. The consent decree stemmed from a 2001 lawsuit against the county and then-Sheriff Steve Crabbe by inmates decrying conditions inside the jail.
A court hearing was scheduled last month when the Center filed a motion saying Franklin should show cause for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of the decree. The center argued that Franklin should have been held in contempt after removing $160,000 from the inmate food account. The sheriff loaned $150,000 of the money to a now-bankrupt, corrupt used car dealership, Priceville Partners, LLC, that was co-owned by Greg Steenson, a convicted felon.
Greg SteensonMorgan County Jail
That hearing, however, was canceled by U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon after the Center and Franklin's attorneys filed a joint stipulation of facts, in which the sheriff acknowledged her loan to the company came from the food fund and that she had replaced the money in the food account. Kallon later set the new hearing date to address the sole remaining issue of whether Franklin can keep unspent funds for personal use, according to court records.
In general, state law allows Alabama sheriffs to keep unspent food funds. In Morgan County, the sheriff receives $1.75 per day from the state for each Alabama inmate housed in the jail. The county also receives about $3 per meal for each federal inmate. The jail, which recently underwent a 450-bed expansion, now has the capacity to house more than 900 inmates.
It's not clear where Franklin got the $150,000 replacement funds, as a bankruptcy lawsuit against the car lot hasn't yet resulted in settlements or repayment to creditors. Franklin's annual salary is $68,000.
Rocks, a nail and moldy food
The Center is arguing Franklin should not be allowed to keep any of the food funds and has included in court documents statements from inmates who describe inadequate food portions and unappetizing or hazardous servings. Inmates reported finding rocks, a nail and mold in food served at the jail.
"Many grievances note that entire cell blocks were fed reduced or watered-down portions -- a tiny amount of soup, a spoonful of grits, five or six green beans or carrot slices as a vegetable serving, a sandwich with half of a slice of cheese on it, and the like -- because the kitchen lacked enough food to serve everyone the portions listed on the menu," according to court records filed by the Center.
The exhibit alleges the menu items have been depleted before all inmates were served, in some cases. "To give an example, during a recent meal at which chicken was served, many inmates reportedly received cooking liquid from the pan in place of meat because the kitchen ran out of chicken. Another person reported that the protein item for a recent lunch was half of a hotdog."
The jail is required to maintain a dietitian-approved menu for all meals.
"Several prisoners report still feeling hungry after eating or losing significant amounts of weight," according to an exhibit included by the Center in court documents. "The underfeeding of detainees particularly is worrisome with respect to people with medical problems that require special diets."
... meat is inedible because it is raw, beans are inedible because they have not been cooked, and bread in inedible because it is stale or moldy...
The exhibit notes that several diabetic inmates are among those who filed grievances.
"Detainees have complained of finding assorted matter in their food such as rocks and, in one case, a nail," the exhibit states. "Similarly, detainees report that meat is inedible because it is raw, beans are inedible because they have not been cooked, and bread in inedible because it is stale or moldy. Detainees have likewise complained on multiple occasions that the jail serves them food items that are frozen, sometimes with ice still attached."
Franklin's attorneys, however, argue that the sheriff's taking $160,000 from the food account did not cause the inmates to be underfed.
"Nothing in the record -- now, or in 2009 -- supports any findings, explicit or implied, that the only way to provide a 'nutritionally adequate diet' to inmates is to spend all the money in the food account on feeding the inmates," the sheriff's attorneys stated in a motion arguing she shouldn't be held in contempt. "In other words, there is no correlation between the withdrawal of funds by Sheriff Franklin and any violation of the inmates' constitutional right to be fed a 'nutritionally adequate diet.'"
Here's more background on this legal battle:
Sheriff's loan to car lot
When Priceville Partners shuttered, Franklin was one of several creditors listed in a March 2016 bankruptcy filing.
The business' co-owner Greg Steenson, already a convicted felon, was arrested on accusations of running a theft and scam operation. Steenson is accused of selling stolen vehicles at Priceville Partners -- the dealership to which Franklin made the loan, according to court documents. The vehicles weren't owned by Steenson or the dealership, and clear titles weren't provided for the purchases, according to court records.
Franklin's attorneys made the admission in a response to a motion filed by the Southern Center of Human Rights that said the sheriff needs to show why she shouldn't be held in contempt of a 2009 federal consent order.
Steenson is charged with multiple felonies, including several counts of first-degree theft by deception, two counts of second-degree forgery and a count of second-degree theft. The cases are pending indictment by a Morgan County grand jury, which will be tasked with determining whether prosecutors have enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Franklin and the other creditors listed in the $3.2 million bankruptcy lawsuit are not charged with theft crimes associated with the business.
Franklin has said she did not know Steenson was a co-owner when she made a loan to the company in 2015. Steenson went to federal prison for an unrelated checking scheme in the 90s.
Inmates file federal lawsuit
The federal lawsuit that's calling into question the sheriff's removal of inmate food funds began in 2001 when Morgan County Jail inmates sued then-Sheriff Steve Crabbe and the county over conditions in the facility. The lawsuit, called Johnny Maynor, et al. v. Morgan County, Alabama et al., was ended with an agreement between the defense and plaintiffs. The agreement included building a new jail and making other improvements.
The case, however, returned to court, in 2008 when inmates complained about the food and conditions under Sheriff Bartlett. Bartlett was found in contempt of the old consent decree and jailed. But a new consent decree was reached in 2009. It included a stipulation that all food funds in Morgan County be used solely for the purpose of feeding inmates.
Franklin argues the consent decree that was issued under now-retired Judge U.W. Clemon doesn't apply to her because it was only an agreement that would let Bartlett out of jail.
The Center, however, argues Franklin should automatically be substituted as a defendant, like Bartlett was in 2009.
In a motion, the Center said Franklin must comply with the consent decree because "public officials are automatically substituted as parties to any case in which their predecessors in office were sued in their official capacity," according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The sheriff also is embroiled in a lawsuit with the creator of the Morgan County Whistleblower blog, which first made public the cashier's checks that showed Franklin's loan to the car lot came from the food account.
Blogger Glenda Lockhart, who has been critical of Franklin for years, sued the sheriff in federal court last year.
The lawsuit accuses Franklin of illegally obtaining information to convince a judge to issue a search warrant for Lockhart's home and business. Franklin has said her office seized computers and various other devices during an investigation into fired jail warden Leon Bradley, who has been accused of leaking documents to Lockhart for publication on the blog.
Bradley was fired for administrative violations, and though he hasn't been charged with a crime, Franklin has said he's being investigated.
The case is related to a blog called the Morgan County Whistleblower. For years, the blog has featured articles critical of Sheriff Ana Franklin.
Lockhart claims Franklin illegally gathered information for a search warrant by paying an informant to break-in, hack and steal data from her home and business offices. Lockhart owns Straightline Drywall and Acoustical, LLC in Falkville.
The informant, Lockhart's grandson Daniel, said in a sworn statement that he was paid to install keylogger software on his grandmother's computer. The software, he said, was provided by the sheriff's office, according to a transcript from a November 2016 deposition.
Lockhart, who was a 20-year-old working at his grandmother's business at the time, said he made a copy of a key he borrowed from her so he could get into the property after hours.
In the statement, Lockhart said he took pictures of emails between his grandmother and the ex-warden, as well as correspondence she had with Chris Hendon, an FBI agent. Lockhart said he hacked his grandmother's Gmail account and the blog.
The keylogger software captured his grandmother's passwords, which Daniel Lockhart wrote down and gave to the sheriff's office, he claimed in the statement.
Daniel Lockhart also said in the deposition the sheriff told him she wasn't seeking information about his grandmother -- just Bradley.
"Ana said that nothing would happen to my grandmother," Lockhart said in the statement. "I said 'Well you're going to only get Leon Bradly, right? You're not going to mess with my grandmother.' They said, 'Yes.'"
Why blog about the sheriff?
Glenda Lockhart began blogging about Franklin after being arrested by the sheriff's office in 2011 on a charge of obstructing government operations. Also arrested was Lockhart's husband, Hal. The charges ultimately were dismissed, but the Lockhart's sued the sheriff for unlawful arrest. The lawsuit was settled privately, and Lockhart has told AL.com she can't discuss details of the settlement.
Glenda LockhartCourtesy photo
The sheriff's office was called to help when the Lockharts' son, who was mentally ill, gained possession of a gun, according to testimony given in a deposition. The call was made from the son's home on the family property in Falkville, but deputies responded to the Lockhart home, which is located at a different address on the property.
Glenda Lockhart said deputies spent hours at her home, searching the house, property and a garage -- instead of assisting with the call at her son's home. The couple was arrested because they asked deputies not to continue searching the home without a warrant, Lockhart said.
After that incident, Lockhart said she became concerned about how Franklin's office was policing the county and decided to investigate, publishing her findings on the blog. That included publishing details of Franklin's use of the inmate food money to make a loan to Priceville Partners.
AL.com will be covering Franklin's court appearance on Friday.