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With cases dismissed, officers speak out

Following a ruling by the Dallas County Circuit Court, which dismissed all cases against the three Selma Police Department (SPD) officers indicted last year, Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips held a press conference alongside officers Toriano Neely, Jeffrey Hardy and Kendall Thomas Thursday.

McPhillips called the ruling “historic and unprecedented” and condemned the actions of Special Agent Susan Smith of the Alabama Attorney General’s office, who presence during grand jury testimony ultimately led to the officers’ cases being dismissed.

“We intend to go after the wrongdoers,” McPhillips stated, adding later that SPD Chief Spencer Collier and Selma Mayor Darrio Melton may be among those that face future legal action. “The City of Selma is so dysfunctional. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

McPhillips called the officers three of Selma’s best investigators and alleged that their indictments were a result of “saying something incorrect.”

“[That’s] definitely not fraud,” McPhillips said.

In a letter addressed to Melton, Collier and Acting Personnel Director Saprina Simmons, McPhillips is demanding “immediate reinstatement” of the officers, in addition to back from November.

If these demands are not met, McPhillips said during the press conference, he will demand an immediate hearing before the city’s Personnel Board.

“Things are just third world over there,” McPhillips said of city government. “Nobody replies to letters or anything. It’s not a revolution by non-peaceful means, but of peaceful means through the court system.”

McPhillips noted the difficulty he had in getting city hall to respond to any of his correspondence and the struggle he had in accessing documents held by the Attorney General’s office, which eventually handed over 30,000 digital files with no indication of which were relevant to the case.

“Life has been really tough for me,” Hardy said. “As a veteran police officer, I’ve never been involved in something like this. This experience made me feel like I was a nobody.”

Hardy talked about how the controversy surrounding the indictment and the ongoing court case caused people not to trust him and how he suffered health problems as a result of the fiasco, which led a doctor to advise him not to work.

“I feel like the City of Selma has turned its back on me,” Hardy continued, saying that Collier “didn’t do his job” and turned his back on the officers. “We actually did a lot of good stuff and the city was proud.”

Neely expressed a similar sentiment.

“It was a hit to my honor and integrity as a police officer,” Neely said. “I have given my all to the city of Selma.”

Neely said that he and the other officers sometimes worked 18 to 20 hours on cases without going home.

“It’s not over with,” Neely said. “This is only just the beginning.”

Neely, a 25-year veteran with the SPD, said that he was close to retirement when he was placed on administrative leave – he was unable to get another job or public assistance because he was technically still employed with the department.

“It was a struggle,” Neely said.

“It’s been more than a struggle,” McPhillips added. “It’s been a stranglehold.”

“I’m still kind of amazed that it happened this way,” Thomas said, fighting back tears. “Financially, I’ve exhausted all of my money.”

Thomas talked about his two children, one of which graduated high school Wednesday and another whose birthday was Thursday – he said that he dedicated so much time to the force that he doesn’t remember his children growing up.

As the meeting came to a close, Hardy commended McPhillips and David Sawyer, an attorney in McPhillips’ office who worked on the case throughout, for their diligence, adding that the two went “above and beyond” in the pursuit of justice.