Dothan PD responds

JAY HARE / DOTHAN EAGLE Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish addresses allegations from a blogger that the department had planted drugs on suspects in the past during a news conference at the Dothan Police Department in early December 2015.

Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish released a statement on Wednesday regarding the recent allegations from a local blogger of public corruption by the leadership of the Dothan Police Department and 20th Judicial Circuit.

Parrish held a press briefing Wednesday afternoon during which he publicly addressed what he referred to as “misinformation” spread by a local internet blogger. Parrish said the Internet post made by Jon Carroll on the Henry County Report was filled with “outright lies.”

“In today’s social media driven society, many individuals take what they read on the Internet as factual. While I am not in the habit of responding to misinformation published online by bloggers, accusations made concerning the credibility of the men and women of this agency shall not go unanswered,” Parrish said in the prepared statement he read aloud. “There are simply too many outright lies and fabrications in the blog to address individually, but his 'opinion' has apparently been taken by many as 'fact.'”

Parrish said he preferred not to even hold the press briefing, because he said it gave the blogger a “little” credibility. Parrish said he’s received numerous calls from media across the country inquiring about the allegations made in the blog post, including the New York Times and CNN.

“It’s a sad day when people read something online and they take it for fact. The slant is there. He has an agenda. It’s the speculation of a loon and what he says happened,” Parrish said. “We are loyal servants to this city and its visitors.”

The report from the blog suggests Parrish, District Attorney Doug Valeska, former Sheriff Andy Hughes along with other leadership of the Dothan Police Department were involved in planting drugs and other evidence on black men during criminal investigations.

The report specifically mentioned the activity of former Dothan police officer Michael Magrino, who now works as a local private investigator. Magrino declined to publicly comment about the blog post.

The blog post included several one-page documents with portions of sentences either highlighted or blacked out.

“While the photo copies of the documents posted online from Mr. Carroll appear to be authentic in nature they are arranged and redacted in a way to promote his agenda,” Parrish said in the statement.

“The specific incident he is illustrating involving a former officer was addressed and handled in accordance with applicable laws and department policy when it occurred back in the late 1990s.”

Parrish said the officer mentioned in the blog post has not worked at the department since then. He also said it was important to note the accusations against the officer were for the improper storage of evidence and not the “planting of evidence.”

Parrish even challenged Carroll to post something with names, such as the names of people who claimed to have had drugs and evidence planted on them.

“It burns me up when people get on the internet and run their mouth,” Parrish said. “I want to ask Mr. Carroll to put his money where his mouth is, and bring me some names.”

Parrish continued to deny any involvement in illegal activities. He encouraged any agency, including federal ones, to make inquiries.

“I’ve put 500 people in jail for drugs in my career, and I’ve never had a complaint filed against me,” Parrish said.

Parrish also addressed a photo of himself standing behind a confederate flag with a group of other law enforcement officers, including former Sheriff Andy Hughes.

The blog refers to Parrish’s involvement in the group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) as that of a Neo-confederate organization labeled, according to the post, as “racial extremists.”

“I am a history enthusiast,” Parrish said. “My ancestors fought for the South during the Civil War, and I’m proud of it.”

Parrish said in 1999 and 2000 he started a local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

He called the organization a nonprofit group with 501-3c status. The blog post never actually named the group in which Parrish was shown holding up a Confederate flag. Parrish stopped serving with the group in 2005.

“I’m red, white and blue to the core,” Parrish said.

Former police chief

The blog post stated former Dothan Police Chief John White instructed officers to ignore complaints made to the department in regard to planting evidence. The complaint alleged there were multiple officers within the department with pending complaints against them for planting evidence all underneath White’s supervision.

“The allegations he made against me are just ridiculous. They’re not based on fact, they’re just crazy,” White said. “This just goes to his pattern and practice of publishing defamatory information without any vetting or act to determine the truth and veracity of what he’s publishing.”

White said the documents on the blog post were over 12 years old and provided to Carroll by a former Dothan Police officer, who served for less than a year in the 1970s, and had obtained them as discovery in an unrelated civil lawsuit.

“He in no way gives us any name of any individual that was allegedly prosecuted based on planted evidence,” White said.

The blog post suggested Magrino was involved in criminal acts such as planting drugs and other evidence. But White said an inquiry showed otherwise.

White said the specific allegations made against Magrino involved the improper storage of evidence not the planting of evidence. He said a supervisor of Magrino’s performed a random inspection on his patrol vehicle and discovered drugs and firearms, properly packaged for evidence, which had not been turned in to the police evidence officer. White said Magrino was written up for the evidence storage issue. White said Magrino later resigned after a second similar evidence storage issue came up.

White said the internal affairs inquiry involving Magrino showed nothing to indicate he had planted any evidence on anyone.

“He committed no crime, he simply violated procedure,” White said. “Magrino was an excellent police officer, and it was sad he wound up losing his job because of procedural violations.”

White said he has already sent Carroll a certified letter demanding a retraction to a post the Henry County Report made recently, which involved accusations against law enforcement in the unsolved murders of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley in Ozark. White said he represents several of the law enforcement officers accused of wrongdoing in the report posted by Carroll.

“I sent them a certified letter giving them notice to post a retraction in the same manner that they published the defamatory information,” White said. “If they fail to do so we will proceed with a civil suit.”

White said he plans to file a similar certified letter on his own behalf in regard to the report posted on the blog this week alleging public corruption by Dothan police.

White said he had reporters from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, among others, contact him Wednesday about the validity of the blog post.

“They’re professional journalists and they called me to find out if there is any basis and fact, they’re doing their job just like he should’ve done,” White said. “I’ve had no one come forward and make an official complaint to be investigated regarding the planting of drugs or evidence. When there was rumor and anonymous complaints made as such they were investigated, later determined to be unfounded. I wouldn’t let any subversive conduct on the part of my staff or myself taint my honesty, integrity and law enforcement legacy which is really the only thing I can leave my sons.”

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