Posse files lawsuit against Sheriff

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 8, 2000

In a memo from the Butler County Sheriff's Office dated May 30, to the Butler County Sheriff's Posse, Sheriff Diane Harris tells all members ". . .as of this date the Butler County Sheriff's Posse is being disbanded." However, Posse leadership is saying Harris does not have the authority to disband the organization, and the group is willing to take the Sheriff to court to prove it.

In fact, a complaint filed in the Circuit Court of Butler County on June 23, on behalf of the Posse, names Harris as the defendant and petitions the court for relief from what Posse members are saying is a case of the Sheriff overstepping her authority.

Noah Flowers, first director of the Sheriff's Posse of Butler County, said the Posse and Harris began having disagreements over membership and the Posse's role with the Sheriff's Office more than a year ago, and the relationship between the organization and the BCSO has been deteriorating ever since. The disagreements, Flowers said, finally boiled over just prior to the Hank Williams Festival, which prompted Harris to issue the aforementioned memo.

Flowers said that as part of the group's fund-raising activities, it regularly works parking control at events such as Calico Fort, Hank Williams Festival and the Family Fourth event at Cambrian Ridge. In the memo issued by Harris, the Sheriff states she and Flowers came to the agreement at this year's Calico Fort event in April that the Posse would work parking there, and the BCSO Auxiliary and Reserve would work those duties at the Hank Williams Festival.

However, Flowers said he had only a brief conversation with Harris at that event, and that no such agreement was reached. Flowers said the group later received an invitation from Georgiana Police Chief James Blackmon to work parking for the Hank Williams Festival in return for a fee of $600. When Posse members showed up in uniform to work the event, however, the group says in it's complaint that the Sheriff "interfered, intimidated and harassed members of the Posse during said event threatening to "forcibly remove" the members for identifying themselves by wearing their usual uniforms as members of the Butler County Sheriff's Posse."

Flowers said the Posse was formed in 1977 under the administration of then Sheriff Charlie Pouncey, and Flowers said the organization has had a healthy working relationship with the BCSO under parts of four administrations. The group was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1984, as its own distinct and legal entity, for the purposes of collecting and distributing monies for charitable purposes.

In its articles of incorporation, the posse states its objectives "to be limited to charitable, benevolent, eleemosynary, educational, civic, patriotic, social fraternal, literary, cultural, athletic, scientific, agricultural, horticultural and animal husbandry purposes for the benefit of the people of the State of Alabama."

However, in the organization's bylaws, the first objective of the organization is "to help maintain peace, order and the law of our community, to be public spirited, to promote good fellowship under the supervision of the Sheriff of Butler County. . ."

Harris says it is this supervisory capacity that gives her the authority to disband the organization on the grounds that, as a whole, the group has not fulfilled its responsibilities to the BCSO

"On numerous occasions I have experienced a lack of response from Posse members when I would call them out to work," Harris said. "We have an auxiliary and reserve program that participates fully with the our activities, and I don't feel that we need two organizations to fill the same need."

Harris also said there have been occasions in which she experienced problems with Posse members following orders. And, she said she would not support an organization operating under a name that associates itself with her office if she could not depend on the membership to follow orders issued by the BCSO.

"They can call themselves anything they want and continue doing their charity work," Harris said. "As long as they leave the Butler County Sheriff out of it."

The name is what Flowers said the organization is trying to protect. He said the Posse was first formed and then later legally incorporated under the name "Sheriff's Posse of Butler County," and the group wants to continue to be identified by the name it has used for more than 23 years.

"We don't care if she wants to use us for law enforcement activities in the future," Flowers said. "We just want her to recognize that she doesn't have the authority to dissolve our corporation or take away our name."

Flowers said the group's lawsuit against Harris seeks three basic requests. First, the Posse wants the Sheriff to recognize that the organization is a separate, distinct and independent entity from the Butler County Sheriff's Office for the legal purposes as outlined in its articles of incorporation. Second, the group wants to protect its name. And finally, the Posse is seeking the recovery of $600 it was promised by the city of Georgiana that they are saying the BCSO denied it from receiving. The Posse is also seeking recovery of attorney's fees.

Harris said the Posse had already been officially disbanded prior to the June 3 Hank Williams Festival, and she will not agree to the organization's use of any name that identifies it with the Butler County Sheriff's Office.