MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. – Alabama lawmakers are pledging to stop sheriffs from pocketing excess jail food money.
But as we’ve reported, at least a few former sheriffs are trying to keep that money until the law is changed.
Former Marshall County sheriff Scott Walls says money left over from the prisoner food budget should be his, and he’s suing to make that claim.
The lawsuit flied against the state comptroller states Gov. Kay Ivey had no authority to change a longstanding practice allowing sheriffs to keep leftover food money. Only the Legislature can do that, he says.
One month into the job, new Marshall County sheriff Phil Sims admits he spent a few days getting the jail’s website back up and running. A shakedown of the jail last weekend turned up cell phones, drugs and weapons.
“I haven’t seen that much stuff come out of a jail in my career,” Sims said.
That’s a glimpse of the work Sims has cut out for him since he took over for former sheriff Scott Walls. But Walls isn’t going down without a court fight. Filing what’s known as a suit for declaratory judgment against the state comptroller.
“The situation we’re in right now didn’t happen overnight. And we can’t cure it overnight,” Marshall County commission chairman James Hutcheson said.
Last year, Governor Ivey directed the state comptroller to no longer pay jail food money directly to the sheriffs. An inventory of Marshall County found there was plenty of food to go around and Walls is fighting to keep the leftover funds.
“He has several discretionary funds, jail food, pistol permits, that we don’t control and we don’t really have access to them,” Hutcheson said.
Reading through the suit that former sheriff Walls and his attorney filed, you won’t find a dollar amount. Hutcheson says he doesn’t have the authority to call back that money from the discretionary fund, but says he’s using his power to help the new sheriff, including staffing a jail supervisor, that’s a position they haven’t filled here in over a year.
“Those positions are all supervisory positions, which are much needed in the basic operations of the sheriff’s office,” Sims said.
Hutcheson says the commission OK’d Sims to hire four supervisors. He’s now looking for five deputies. His next request will be for new vehicles and some much needed jail maintenance.
“I’m sure that’ll be on the agenda in two weeks,” Hutcheson said.
Neither sheriff Sims nor Hutcheson wished to comment on the pending case. Sheriff Sims says he may add his name to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that Walls had money from the state that hadn’t been spent to feed inmates by the end of his term in January.
For years Alabama sheriffs were allowed to pocket excess funds that had been distributed to them for the purpose of feeding inmates. Some sheriffs, like former Etowah County sheriff Todd Entrekin, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars that was left over from jail food funds.
Ivey announced last July that sheriffs should be following a 2011 attorney general opinion that stated the funds could only be used for feeding prisoners.
Walls didn’t specify how much money was in dispute in his filing.
On Friday, WHNT News 19 contacted both the state comptroller’s office as well as Walls’ attorney Donald Rhea for comment.
Neither responded to our request.