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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Attorneys criticize "Riley's Raiders," release video of raid

Attorneys for employees and clients of the gaming center in White Hall said Tuesday they believe the actions of a task force assembled by Gov. Bob Riley violated the civil and constitutional rights of their clients.
Attorney Jock Smith of The Cochran Firm, who was joined by about 30 clients, said the firm is investigating the March 19 raid to determine if there were violations, whether to pursue legal action and who they would pursue.
Smith talked about how law enforcement stormed into the building early that morning, pulled guns on people and confiscated their personal items. The attorneys also showed a video, which showed authorities pointing guns at some people and also showed officers forcibly leading around an employee of the White Hall Resort and Entertainment Center, which is about 20 miles west of Montgomery along U.S. 80.
None of the clients chose to talk to the media on Tuesday with one woman saying "it is too painful."
Smith said some of the people lost control of their bladder and one woman had her medication taken from her.
During the raid, the governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling confiscated 101 machines and more than $560,000 in cash. Riley and David Barber, commander of the task force, have said the goal is to take a test case before the Alabama Supreme Court to determine if the machines being played at White Hall are legal.
Riley and Barber believe the machines are illegal slot machines.
Smith said bingo is authorized in White Hall by an amendment to the Alabama constitution.
Barber said the raid was a successful tactical operation. He said nobody was injured.
"From what I know at this point, I wouldn't do anything different," Barber said.
He said experts acknowledged in court that the machines could be quickly modified with a change in the software in a backroom.
Smith questioned the need for the use of force.
Barber said three undercover officers were in the facility from about 3 a.m. until the raid started close to 6 a.m. Those officers identified three armed guards and those raiding the facility confiscated seven weapons, including an Intratec DC9 9 mm, known on the street as a Tec-9 that holds 35 to 40 rounds.
When raiding a location, Barber said they have to prepare for the worst and be prepared in case one of the armed guards "tried to play Rambo" and started firing.
Critics had also said the officers and agents came in with guns drawn. The video shows the men entering in large numbers, but without their guns drawn.
Barber said guns were pointed at people who were armed and refused to put their hands up. He also said those with guns and those behind counters where they could not be seen well were ordered to put their hands up.
Barber told stories of officers being fatally shot during incidents while he was district attorney in Jefferson County. Those officers did not have their guns drawn, he said. The prosecutor also referred to the recent shooting death of officers in Pittsburgh and Oakland.
"You have to err on the side of caution" to protect the officers and the public, Barber said.
The governor's office released a list of the weapons confiscated from security during the raid.
"Their first job was to make sure no one was hurt and they were not," Riley said at a morning press conference about another issue. He had not seen the video, but said he would not second-guess their actions with semi-automatic weapons on the premises.
The attorneys referred to the officers and agents as "Riley's Raiders."
Smith said the task force, if the intention was to get a ruling, could have sought a declaratory judgement from the court. He also said the task force could have contacted local authorities before the raid.
Barber said he wanted physical evidence including the machines and the server for his case. He said authorities do not call ahead in an investigation such as this one.
Nobody was arrested. Barber said people's information was recorded in the event it was needed.
Smith asked why no one was arrested if they are alleging illegal activity.
He said law enforcement did not identify themselves. Smith said there have been occasions of hold-ups with those robbing the place wearing uniforms.
Barber said he was not on the entry team, but said "they announced themselves verbally when they went in." Also, he said, uniformed state police and officers with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board were posted at the doors.
Smith said White Hall was targeted when there were other operations in Alabama including Macon County and Greene County. He said the case appears to be selective prosecution and the raid occurred in the city that could least afford for the business to close and for 200 people to have their employment interrupted.
"You've got to start somewhere," Barber said.
Smith said his clients, who came to Montgomery on Tuesday by bus, were victims. He said having a gun pulled on a person could be traumatic. He also claimed there was assault and false imprisonment for detaining his clients against their will without cause.
"All of this could have been avoided had a different landscape been orchestrated by the task force," he said.
Smith said the raid was a "complete overreaching."
"I'm upset and disappointed these actions could take place in a civilized place," he said.
In talking about items being taken, Barber said the medication Smith alleged was taken could have been in a purse and it is standard operating procedure for officers to check bags and backpacks. He said he was certain the medication was returned.
A bill is currently pending before the Legislature that would authorize electronic bingo in several locations throughout the state including White Hall and Macon and Greene counties. The bill would also create a gaming commission to oversee the operations and tax them.
Smith said he was not concerned about the legality of the machines, but the treatment of the people there.


-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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