Wilson’s claim disputed

Published 3:13 am Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Andalusia man whose vehicle was almost struck head-on by mayoral candidate Blaine Wilson says Wilson’s claim that he lost his standing as an auxiliary policeman for political reasons is wrong.

“I watched his thing on TV, where he said they took his badge,” Tommy Cobb said. “That wouldn’t be the case. I’m the one who went to Mayor Johnson because we were almost killed.”

Cobb contacted The Star-News Friday after Wilson’s two-hour political speech to supporters at a campaign event last Tuesday was aired on WAAO-TV Thursday night.

Cobb said that on Thurs., June 14, he was traveling west on the bypass and was in the turning lane at the car wash at the corner of North Cotton Street. He said he saw a green Altima traveling east at a high rate of speed and being pursued by several law enforcement officers.

Cobb said he thought that all of the officers had passed him and he was preparing to turn. At about that time, a woman turned from North Cotton onto the bypass and a vehicle with the WAAO logo on the side swerved to miss her, crossed into the turning lane and almost hit Cobb head-on.

“By the grace of God, he missed us,” Cobb said, adding that his 2-year-old daughter and 11-year-old stepson were in the vehicle with him.

Cobb said his stepson was so sure the family was going to be hit that he started crying.

“If (Wilson) had turned around and told me he was sorry, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it,” Cobb said. “He didn’t even pull over. He floored it and took off again. I felt like we had to do something.”

Cobb said he’s not sure how the driver, later identified as Wilson, managed to miss him and his family. Cobb went to the APD to complain. Chief Wilbur Williams said that because Cobb could not positively identify Wilson as the driver, there was nothing that could be done at the time of the initial complaint. However, an officer involved in the pursuit later identified Wilson as the driver of the vehicle.

Meanwhile, Cobb talked with a sheriff’s deputy about his complaint, and notified Mayor Earl Johnson.

“Mr. Johnson gave me his word it would be taken care of,” Cobb said. “It was.”

Williams said he was already investigating the incident when the mayor called him about it.

When told about Cobb’s comments Monday afternoon, Wilson told The Star-News, “I have no idea what he’s talking about. No one has told me anything about that. That’s the first I’ve heard of that. Nor do I know anything about a complaint.”

Wilson said he did go to the scene.

“Did I go to the scene – Yes. I have video and a picture,” he said. “But I never got a press release and neither did (The Star-News). I don’t know who was in the vehicle or who was arrested.”

The pursuit ended in the east-bound lane of Hwy. 84 near Sitel.

Wilson said that the chief’s letter informing him he had been removed from auxiliary status did not mention the complaint.

“Why have I not heard this,” he said. “That’s not what the letter says.”

When asked if he still contends that his dismissal was political, Wilson said, “You better go back and listen to the tape,” adding that he previously had been misquoted by the newspaper.

When Wilson read the letter from the chief during his campaign speech, he referred to it as the letter he received “when they found out I was going to be a candidate for mayor.” Listen as Wilson reads letter

Wilson did not publicly state he was a candidate until the last day of qualifying, July 17. However, he told The Star-News on Monday, “It was pretty evident what I was going to do.”

Wilson said that his being removed from the roster was a formality, and that he would have had to resign when he qualified for office. However, city clerk John Thompson said an employee is only required to take a leave of absence from the time of qualifying until the election is over.

But Williams said Cobbs’ complaint, as well as a separate incident the following day, gave him reasons to remove Wilson’s name from his list of part-time employees.

The second incident was on Antioch Road on Fri., June 15. Wilson responded to a call to the Covington County Sheriff’s Department about a shooting near Hart’s Country Store. When deputies arrived, Williams said, Wilson was there with a gun drawn.

The problem, the chief said, was potential liability. If Wilson were responding as a part-time, or auxiliary, police officer, he should not have gone unless the county had requested help from the city, and Wilson had been asked by an APD supervisor to respond, Williams said.

In the APD, auxiliary officers are certified law enforcement officers in the state of Alabama who work part-time, for pay.

“It can work to our advantage if we are able to fill in with part-time personnel for whom we don’t have to pay benefits,” Williams said.

It also works to the benefit of certified officers who wish to maintain certification, he said. Certified officers are required to complete continuing education hours each year, he said, but those must be reported to the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission by a law enforcement agency with which the officer is affiliated.

Wilson, who was a full-time officer with the APD from Jan. 20, 2007, to Dec. 20, 2007, was added to the department’s part-time roster on Dec. 5, 2009. From that time until Williams terminated Wilson on June 18, 2012, Wilson was on the roster, but did not actually work as an auxiliary police officer, the chief said.

After the two incidents in June, Williams said, he had Assistant Chief Mike Bowlan hand-deliver a letter to Wilson informing him that he had been removed from the part-time roster of the APD and requesting that he return his APD-issued gun and badge within 48 hours.

Williams said that whether Wilson, the owner of WAAO, intended to respond to the pursuit in his news-gathering role or as an auxiliary policeman, he behaved inappropriately.

Williams said it would be unlawful for a law enforcement officer to join a chase in an unmarked, unlighted vehicle. If Wilson responded as a civilian, he committed any number of traffic violations, Williams said.

The June 15 pursuit began when a driver failed to respond to a simple traffic stop by Officer Steve McGowin.

Editor’s note: The Star-News acknowledges that it incorrectly quoted Wilson last Wednesday when it reported that Wilson, in his speech to supporters, referred to Springdale as a “cash cow.” Wilson in fact said he was told by an auditor that the city’s utility board is a cash cow.

The Star-News apologizes for the error, and is happy to set the record straight.