Ex-chief from tiny town that preyed on drivers gets plea deal, $25 fine instead of prison

By John Archibald

The town of Brookside, Alabama holds municipal court once a month. The courtroom and the parking lot are packed with people. Police must direct traffic before the 1 p.m. court session starts. (Joe Songer)

This is an opinion column.

I’ve never written a column about Brookside. Not once.

reported a lot of news there, about how a town built a police force and used it to rake in cash, scooping up people’s lives with it.

But I didn’t write opinion columns because I didn’t want to cross the streams.

I guess that ends here. What happened last week in south Alabama seemed to put a stamp of finality on Brookside, and my part in it.

Mike Jones, the former Brookside police chief, the poster child for police overreach in a town that turned crime into money, got the kind of deal his style of law would never allow.

A pretty sweet one. At least when he had been facing up to 10 years in Alabama prison.

Jones was charged two years ago with impersonating a police officer, a felony. He was stopped for speeding by a Covington County sheriff’s deputy who said he clocked Jones doing 78 in a 55.

Jones brashly held his Brookside police badge out the window when the young deputy walked up. The deputy saw it as an attempt to beat the traffic ticket.

That was trouble, as it turned out, because Jones had resigned or been fired by Brookside months earlier, after AL.com’s reporting about the town gained state and national attention.

It’s trouble, too, that a cop can flash a badge and get away with breaking the law. But that’s another issue.

The deputy did not recognize Jones, according to an affidavit, and the badge worked. He gave Jones a “professional courtesy verbal warning” instead of a ticket.

When Covington County Sheriff Blake Turman heard of it he was livid.

“I can’t stand a dirty cop,” Sheriff Turman said then. “I can stand a thief better than a dirty cop. All they do is take people’s rights. I can’t stand them.”

The county and the sheriff sought a warrant for Jones, and he turned himself in. The case had seen little action in the time since.

Last week – the Andalusia Star News reported it first – Jones got a deal. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of impersonating a public servant.

So instead of facing a class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Court records show he was ordered to pay a fine of $25 – half a tank of gas these days – plus a $350 bail bond fee, attorney’s fees and costs. He already paid his bill. It came to $621, according to court records.

Jones won’t face jail, if he keeps his nose clean. But he was made to forfeit his Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission certification.

It was a slap on the wrist of course, particularly considering the lives his department affected without so much consideration. But there was one more thing:

“It is also ordered that the defendant shall not be eligible for employment as a peace officer in the state of Alabama,” the plea deal read.

It’s something. Maybe more than something.

Not justice, perhaps, but a bit of finality. A bit of karma. But it is also a reminder – like former Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, who got a rare Alabama parole, and killer cop Aaron Cody Smith, who got a get out of jail free card from the attorney general – that those with power and powerful friends don’t face the same kind of “justice” as those Brookside targeted.

Brookside received national attention in 2022 after AL.com described how without subtlety it expanded its police force and used blacked-out vehicles, a drug-sniffing dog named Cash and dubious stops to churn traffic tickets. The town’s revenue from fines came to provide 49% of the town’s income.

Jones and much of the force resigned or got forced out, judges threw out many of the pending cases and the Alabama Legislature passed four bills to prevent another Brookside.

The town of Brookside – just 1,253 people then – commissioned its own investigation in the wake of those reports. It found that police there, under Jones, preyed on the poor and those who seemed weak.

Jones, though, was punished with a $25 fine, and perhaps fittingly, a wad of fees. But at least he can no longer be a police officer.

That may not be justice, but it’s damn sure good news.