Candidate targets cops

Published 12:38 am Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Five officers in the Andalusia Police Department received what they said they perceived as a threatening letter from District 2 city council candidate Duane O’Neal Monday.

O’Neal delivered five letters to the dispatcher and asked that she personally make sure the letters were distributed, Chief Wilbur Williams said Monday afternoon.

Assistant police chief Capt. Mike Bowlan, Lt. Paul Dean, Lt. Paul Hudson, Lt. Barney Tyree, and Sgt. Jason Curry received identical letters that said, “Get the Assistant Chief to tell you the story about John Harrell and others the night of our first council meeting. It seems that their services were no longer needed due to crap that went on during our campaign in 1992. I have been through this before and will not tolerate it again in 2012.

“Remember there is a 50/50 chance of Blaine Wilson, Duane O’Neal, Andy Alexander, Johnny Godwin, and Will Sconiers winning this election. Are your jobs really worth that risk?

“Think about it.”

Contacted by The Star-News by telephone, O’Neal said he couldn’t say if he had written the letter, he’d have to see it to verify it. When a reporter started to read the letter to him, he interrupted and said, “Let me see the letter and I’ll tell you if I wrote it or not,” and hung up.

Several minutes later, a woman who identified herself as O’Neal’s wife, Michelle O’Neal, called and warned, “You know if you print that letter without us verifying it, what’s going to happen.”

Mrs. O’Neal declined an invitation for the O’Neals to come to the newspaper office to verify the letter, saying someone would have to come to their home.

When a second phone call was placed to O’Neal later in the evening, he said the letter was written to “remind them what happened in 1992.”

Asked what the men had done that warranted them receiving the letter, he said, “Several people are trying to dig up stuff on Blaine Wilson, Duane O’Neal, Andy Alexander, Johnny Godwin and Will Sconiers to hurt us during the election.”

O’Neal said he is “not running for mayor and not campaigning against Earl Johnson. Matter of fact – let’s see if (The Star-News will) print this – I voted for him the last two times he ran.”

O’Neal again stated that he would sue the newspaper if the letter were printed without him verifying it. However, he declined to verify it unless someone came to his house, and he refused to state the contents of his letter.

“That would be too easy on you,” he said, and hung up again.

According to Star-News archives, when the new administration took office in 1992, at least four city employees were terminated, including the department head and assistant department head in streets and sanitation department head; the director of recreation, and the police chief. O’Neal was a member of that council.

The four candidates mentioned in O’Neal’s letter denied knowledge of the letter and said they had not talked with him about any actions to be taken if they were elected.

District 1 incumbent Will Sconiers said, “I haven’t talked with Duane any time lately.”

Asked if he had talked with O’Neal about anyone being fired, he said, “Absolutely not.”

Former councilman Andy Alexander, who defeated O’Neal to claim a seat on the council in 1996, said, “This is the first I’ve heard of any of this. I have not heard nothing. I have no intention of anything like that.”

Mayoral candidate Blaine Wilson also said he had not discussed such action with O’Neal.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Wilson said. “I’ve going enough going on without that.”

Wilson said he had not had any discussion with O’Neal about anyone being fired.

“I’ve got however many days left to focus on my own campaign,” he said.

Godwin, a candidate for the District 4 seat, also said he had not talked with O’Neal.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Godwin said. “I’m not personally acquainted with any of those (officers).”

Williams said that Bowlan, as assistant chief, is the only officer who received a letter who serves at the will of the council.

“He is a merit system employee who has come up through the ranks,” Williams said.

While the council could choose to remove him from the assistant chief’s job, they could not fire him or the others who received the letter without due process.