The sheriff’s race broke into confusion and controversy this week after one candidate and a former state senator said that a drug bust with old warrants would be taking place before Tuesday’s primary — but Sheriff James Underwood at first would not confirm arrests were made, saying investigations continue. He later confirmed arrests were made.
Underwood said Friday afternoon, “The Sheriff’s Department investigates a crime every day of the year, every day of the week, 24 hours a day. We continue to investigate what occurred all this week and last year. We continue to work for the public. This investigation is continuing and nothing will be released at this time.”
He would not confirm about any arrests, but after the Daily Mountain Eagle asked again that afternoon, Underwood had a brief statement texted to the Eagle on his behalf.
“We did conduct a large scale roundup yesterday, but in an effort not to politicize it, the names and charges will not be released until after the election,” Underwood’s statement said.
The Daily Mountain Eagle obtained records for arrest warrants executed Thursday through Alacourt’s online electronic system, which provides official trial court records in Alabama. Court records in the system showed at least 19 people arrested who had a combined total of 37 unlawful distribution warrants on them that were executed on Thursday. Those warrants were obtained May 29-30 by officers with the Sheriff’s Department, almost all of them by John Blair Huddleston. A number of other people were also arrested on drug charges, and some had multiple offense dates and charges.
It cannot be confirmed at this time that those arrested Thursday, as displayed on arrest warrants on the state system, are officially part of any organized drug bust.
The offense dates for the unlawful distribution incidents took place not only in May but in April, March, February, and January. Five known unlawful distribution charges go back to offense dates in June and July 2017 – about a full year before the election.
At Tuesday’s Daily Mountain Eagle political forum, Republican candidate Nick Smith surprised many by mentioning rumors circulating that day of the drug raid. The Alabama Cable Network will air all the speeches that night on Saturday at noon, Sunday at 1 p.m. and Monday at 9 p.m.
“Every election has rumors and it has facts,” Smith said. “I want to share the difference between a rumor and a fact. This week I heard the sheriff is planning on doing a roundup and arresting numerous individuals for drugs to get your votes before the election. I pray it isn’t true. I would pray no sheriff in the state of Alabama would jeopardize my family or your family to get a vote. But again, that is a rumor. That started with something I heard. It is not fact. What I am about to tell you is fact.”
He then discussed how the county has been reported in the media to be first in drug-related deaths.
Former state Sen. Charles Bishop called in Thursday morning on Talk 99.5 on the Matt and Aunie Show, featuring Matt Murphy and Andrea Lindenberg.
Saying that Underwood was in trouble, Bishop said drug warrants were held back “because he knew he was in trouble” with the election. He said about 70 warrants are being issued for people that day for people who should have been in jail a month earlier to “try to get votes to get over the hump.”
On Thursday, Ralph B. Williams, who works in the Narcotics Division for the Sheriff’s Department, wrote a Facebook post addressed to Bishop and Smith.
“Your efforts to warn drug dealers that we were coming in an attempt to make our mission fail today were unsuccessful,” he wrote. “It was a great day today in Walker County. Thankfully nobody was hurt as a result of your public service announcements.
“It reminds me of Oakland, CA Mayor Libby Schaaf warning the community of raids, which helped hundreds of undocumented immigrants to elude capture. In her tweet, she stated that an immigration operation was expected in the San Francisco area, including Oakland, possibly within 24 hours.”