MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – The recent arrest of a Mobile County constable accused of murder has raised concerns about the controversial law enforcement group. At issue is a lack of training and criminal records for some constables.
If you ask any constable, they will proudly tell you they are a member of the oldest law enforcement group in the state. They also boast they have the same authority of arrest as any other peace officer.
However, they are the only law enforcement representatives in Alabama who are not required to have any training whatsoever. FOX10 News discovered some of these elected peace officers who are sworn to protect and serve, are also convicted felons.
Legal troubles for some
Mario Yow is halfway through his four year term as State Constable for Precinct 34.
“Which is Plateau, parts of Prichard which is Josephine Allen Way. We’re elected officials, elected by the people. We’re not hired on as other law enforcement agencies. We’re elected by the people,” Yow said.
The same year Yow was elected, though, he was arrested and charged with trafficking cocaine.
“Because, I was railroaded by the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department, you know what I’m saying, so it was like either you going to do this, or you can take this plea,” Yow said. “I was offered a plea at trial for probation. It’s supposed to be a mandatory three years, but I don’t deal drugs Ms. Dials, never have.”
“So, you’re saying even though you pleaded guilty to trafficking cocaine, you didn’t actually traffic cocaine?” asked Renee.
“No ma’am I didn’t,” Yow said.
Despite his legal troubles, Yow said he has been a great asset to law enforcement, and he continues to serve his community.
“Private security. People call because they want the presence of a law enforcement car parked outside. When I have done club security, wedding receptions, things like that, people know that I’m very strict about no weapons coming into wherever I’m doing security at,” Yow explained.
As a convicted felon, Yow cannot carry a firearm.
“I don’t carry one right now, because I’d just rather deal with pepper spray. It’s too much shooting that’s going on now with law enforcement. It’s seems like that’s the only thing they resort to,” he said.
Yow is not the only constable who as ended up on the other side of the law.
More constables in trouble with the law
Larry Sheffield’s arrest for murder in July put the spotlight on constables in Mobile County. Investigators said Sheffield shot and killed an unarmed man outside a bar on the Causeway. Sheffield said the shooting was self defense.
Precinct 6 Constable Donald Aucoin is on probation for a DUI conviction in July. It’s a misdemeanor, but still not something you’d expect from a peace officer. Aucoin is still on the active constable list.
Recently, Scott Bond pleaded guilty in April to a federal firearms charge in Kentucky. He was sentenced to three years probation in July. Bond was indicted in 2013, but continued to serve as constable for Precinct 87 in the Theodore area until just recently. He has since turned in his resignation to probate court.
Judge: if convicted, felons’ “office is automatically vacated”
“Generally speaking, in Alabama, if an elected official is convicted of a felony, then upon that conviction their office is automatically vacated,” Probate Judge Don Davis said.
Judge Davis said, however, there’s no one to check in the case of constables.
“As an elected official, you are aware that most elected officials – if they have a felony conviction – that they can lose their office?” asked Renee.
“I’ve heard that, but I’ve also been informed that if you do get a felony offense, that you have to be impeached, because it’s not like you can just be thrown out of office. You know what I’m saying? Because I have looked into it also,” said Yow.
“Have you looked into it because of your felony?” Renee asked.
“Yes I have,” he said.
“So, you think that you should be able to serve, and you would have to be impeached? Who would impeach you?” she asked.
“I have no idea. I have tried to ask that question to find out, and nobody ever told me,” Yow replied.
Constable: lack of training a scary situation
There are a lot of constables, like Yow, who were write-in candidates who won the election with just a few votes – in some cases with only one vote.
However, what some find disturbing is that many don’t have any law enforcement training, and that’s something that’s required for every other police officer and deputy in the state. Even some constables themselves say more training is needed among their ranks.
“Now the problem with constables is, one can conceivably get one write-in vote, go buy a badge and a uniform and a side arm, and go out and have the same authority has a deputy sheriff, or a Mobile Police officer. And I think that’s dangerous, because they might have had not one minute’s training in the use of the firearm, or any training whatsoever in citizens rights, or the law, or procedure, or what can be done, and what can’t be done,” Precinct 91 Constable David Evans said.
Evans has more than 20 years experience with the Secret Service and U.S. Customs. He said it’s troubling that many constables don’t have minimum training, and he called it a scary situation.
“It certainly is, because if a person with no training with firearm has to act, my goodness what could happen?” he said.
Evans also pointed out another concern.
“There’s no oversight of the constables. A deputy sheriff or police officer has to answer to his chain of command. If there’s a citizen’s complaint, he can be disciplined. There’s no oversight for a constable in Mobile County, there’s not authority to which a citizen can go and complain,” Evans said.
Evans said he worked with others to try to bring about training and oversight for constables. There have been bills brought up in the legislature, but he said they were either killed, or struck down in court.
President of Constable Assoc. retorts, refutes reports
FOX10 News received an email on Wednesday from Darrell Carter, President of the Mobile County Constables Association who takes issue with some of the points in our investigative report.
Carter wrote, “Oversight for the State Constables is derived from the State Ethics Commission like all other elected officials in Alabama.”
On digging deeper, we discovered write-in candidates do not have to file any ethics forms, and many of them don’t. For example, a number of write-in constables, including Mario Yow, are not listed on the Ethic Commissions website. So, the Commission may not know those individuals exist.
In his email, Carter also stated: “Mobile County Constables started a voluntary training academy taught by APOSTC certified instructors of which Constables paid for this training ourselves, thus not costing taxpayers any money for this training.”
APOSTC, which stands for Alabama Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission is responsible for training all officers in the state. We have contacted APOSTC, but as of yet we have not been able to verify if the constable’s voluntary training meets the approval and standards required for law enforcement in Alabama.
Carter also addresses Yow’s conviction in his email. According to the Association President an ethics complaint has been filed against Yow, because of the conviction, which happened in February. Carter’s email does not indicate when the complaint was filed, nor the outcome.
FOX10 News will let you know when we get any additional updates.