City of Madison responds to resident concerns over lack of communication

MADISON, Ala. -- Two teens are behind bars after police believe they killed a man behind a Publix on County Line Road. The suspects were located in the woods near an abandoned house on Browns Ferry Road, not far from the scene. Authorities say the two teens were staying at the Three Springs school and were reported as runaways Monday morning.

Police said the crime happened just after 11:00 pm Monday night. Officers said construction workers were working on a renovation project at Publix where they spotted one of their coworkers.

Authorities  found the victim's body with significant head trauma, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Madison Police released the identity of the victim as 61-year-old Van Johnson of Riverdale, Georgia.

With the two suspects in custody, residents in the area want to know why there wasn't more communication about the situation.

Michael Conway said he had no idea there was any danger in the area. His kids were playing outside on Monday, one minute away from Publix.

"Had we known as parents, we could've taken steps to be there for our kids and prevent something from happening," he said.

Conway has some questions for both the Three Springs facility and the Madison Police Department.

"When was the escape noticed? Two, when did they notify Madison Police Department? And then three, why as residents weren't we told to be on the lookout?" he asked.

Conway wants transparency. So does Piper Moore, a business owner in the shopping center where the murder happened.

"We all here in this shopping center work till late hours. Every business here, and especially business owners. We had no idea that anything like this was going on," she said.

She only found out about it this morning. She said the lack of communication is concerning.

"Where is the disconnect? We do have children in this area, we have people who run in the early morning, we have all sorts of things. You know it could've happened to anybody," she said.

Especially because police are calling this a crime of opportunity. Moore said more protocols need to be in place when something like this happens at Three Springs.

"I feel like we put a lot of people at risk yesterday by not knowing the facts, and it could've been a lot worse," said Moore.

City officials released a statement addressing some of the questions surrounding the issue.

"The City is saddened by the loss of life that occurred this morning.  Our entire community mourns the fact such a tragedy could occur. There have been many questions raised by the community throughout the day.  The Mayor’s office, City Council and Madison Police have worked together to address the following concerns."

Q: What is the history of runaways and escapees at Three Springs?

A: There had been only 1 reported runaway event in 2013, 1 in 2014, none in 2015, 1 escapee report in 2016, but already 4 runaway and 1 escapee incident reported by Three Springs in 2017.

Q: Why wasn't the public notified of an escape yesterday?

A:  The two males were runaways, not escapees. They were in the care of the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) and not housed in the medium security facility operated by the Department of Youth Services.  There are 10 such beds at the Three Springs facility operated by DHR.  Youth in the custody of DHR that leave the facility are reported as runaways.  Had the reported males been housed by DYS, they would have been treated as escapees.

On runaway reports, the Madison Police Department has a policy to wait 24 hours before notifying the public.

Q:  What can be done immediately to address the security concerns?

A:  Three Springs is operated by a company called Sequal TSI. Police Chief David Jernigan had scheduled a meeting with the new director of Three Springs prior to this event for Wednesday morning, August 16, to discuss concerns of the recent increase in reports from the facility.

City officials have spoken with Sequal TSI officials and they are putting extra measures in place for tonight. They include: increased staff on campus, administrative staff will remain on campus until the kids go to bed, there will be additional overnight staff added, and no children will be allowed to go outside.

Sequal TSI says they plan to do a complete review of the incident, hold team meetings with all the staff to discuss extra safety precautions, and provide additional training to prevent truancies.

Q:  I don't think this facility should be part of our community. What can be done to remove it from our community?  Can they have their facility permit or privileges revoked based on their lack of competent security?

A:  Mayor Finley, Madison County Commissioner Haraway, and other city officials discussed the situation with State Senator Holtzclaw today, and they will continue to bring their concerns about the facility to other state officials on Wednesday.  City officials are also actively investigating its available legal options as this situation evolves.

Q:  What can be done immediately to address the security concerns?

A:  Three Springs is operated by a company called Sequal TSI. Police Chief David Jernigan had scheduled a meeting with the new director of Three Springs prior to this event for Wednesday morning, August 16, The purpose of the meeting was to discuss concerns of the recent increase in reports from the facility. They will still be meeting tomorrow with Sequal executive leadership to also address security at the facility.

City leaders have spoken with Sequal TSI officials that confirm they will be putting extra measures in place for tonight. They include: increased staff on campus, administrative staff will remain on campus until the kids go to bed, additional overnight staff, and no children will be allowed to go outside.

Action items on the Sequal TSI agenda for tomorrow include having corporate staff on campus to do a complete review of the incident, holding team meetings with all the staff to discuss extra safety precautions, and providing additional training to prevent truancy.

Q:  I don't think this facility should be part of our community. What can be done to remove it from our community?  Can they have their facility permit or privileges revoked based on their lack of competent security?

A:  Mayor Finley, Madison County Commissioner Haraway, and other city officials discussed the situation with State Senator Holtzclaw on Tuesday. They will continue to bring their concerns about the facility to other state officials on Wednesday.  The City is also actively investigating its available legal options as this situation evolves.

City officials say they will continue to listen to public concerns and address them appropriately.