Bill to Make Looting a Crime Moving Forward in Alabama Legislature

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Who can forget a very clear warning from a storm victim in Lawrence County after April 27th, 2011:  "We are just wanting to protect our stuff that we have left. We just wanted them to know they would be shot on sight if they came trying to take our stuff," said Janie Rollins.

Rollins did everything she could to protect what she had left after a tornado moved through her neighborhood.

Thursday, Alabama lawmakers listened to a second reading of a bill that would create the crime of looting.  It would be a class C felony and the new law would make it easier to prosecute someone suspected of taking a disaster victim's property.

House Bill 340 was sponsored by Representative John Merrill from Tuscaloosa, but it was born from the efforts of Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Mitchell.

As if the devastation wasn't bad enough that day, storm victims in Lawrence County were further assaulted by people looking to steal what little of their property they had left.

Mitchell arrested and charged four people with theft of property during the aftermath.

But to the surprise of Mitchell and several other law enforcement agencies around the state, the charges didn't stick.

"The courts dismissed all of the charges, because they did not have a quote victim," said Mitchell.  "We couldn't identify the victim.  They said you've got to tell me exactly which person owned that piece of metal.  It's impossible to do."

Mitchell says he talked with other sheriffs frustrated by the same problem happening in their disaster zones.
In February, Representative John Merrill of Tuscaloosa introduced House Bill 340, which would fix the loophole.

"It simply makes the state of Alabama the victim, which is what everything else winds down to in all affidavits, against the state at the last moment," said Mitchell.  "This simply does it up front and says that the state is a victim, if we can't find who owns that property.

Mitchell says the bill passed the House and is now in consideration in the Senate.

The looting bill in the Senate is SB302, sponsored by Tuscaloosa Senator Gerald Allen.

It's now pending a third reading.

If it becomes law, the crime of looting would come with punishment of up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $15,000.