Brookside, Alabama Fines
People abused by small town’s “policing for profit” file class action seeking accountability
Brittany Coleman is fighting Brookside, Alabama over its abusive fines.
Police take an oath to protect and serve the public. But in Brookside, Alabama, a top-down scheme pushed by its police chief, mayor and council has prioritized something else instead: generating money. Hundreds of people tell similar stories about being pulled over for dubious reasons and charged with bogus violations. Many motorists were left stranded on the side of the road when their cars were towed without justification, often at night and with small children.
The town prosecutor and judge rubber-stamped these abuses, and in turn, Brookside’s revenue spiked by over 600% in two years, with fines and forfeitures coming to fuel nearly half the town’s budget. Yet still, that was not enough for the minds behind Brookside’s policing racket. Police Chief Mike Jones, who recently resigned, declared the 600% increase “a failure” because the town could be raking in more cash with “more officers and more productivity.”
This “productivity” is carried out in a manner as outrageous as its goal. Following Chief Jones’ takeover, the police force began fabricating violations, patrolling outside its jurisdiction, threatening and harassing drivers, and handcuffing people and towing their cars for bogus reasons. The police have been targeting the people they know are more vulnerable, including low-income individuals and people of color. With its nine police officers and only 1,200 residents, Brookside’s rate of officers is one per 139 residents, more than four times the national average.
Brittany Coleman was one of the victims of Brookside’s policing for profit scheme. A recent University of Alabama graduate, she was pulled over by Brookside police for allegedly following her boyfriend’s car too closely, as they drove together to get lunch on her birthday. Without justification, the officer forced Brittany to stand handcuffed in the hot Alabama sun for more than 30 minutes as he searched her car. She was issued citations for tailgating and for marijuana possession. The possession charge was later dismissed because the police never actually found any marijuana. The officer told Brittany that, if not for the pandemic, he would have arrested her. Regardless, he ordered her car towed. Brittany was forced to pay Brookside nearly $1,000 in towing fees, fines, and court costs.
Abuses like these are not isolated incidents. Brookside police had a practice of finding any reason to tow cars and leave people on the side of the road. No matter the weather, no matter the time of day, and without regard to whether there were small children in the car, people were left stranded on empty country roads.
Brookside’s policing practices are deeply offensive—not only to common decency, but also the U.S. Constitution. Courts recognize that generating 10% of revenue from fines and fees raises a presumption of unconstitutionality; Brookside generated five times that. That’s why Brittany and three other victims of Brookside’s policing racket, represented by the Institute for Justice, are filing a class action lawsuit to affirm that police must act in the interest of justice, not their pocketbooks.
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Cops behaving badly