EAST ALABAMA (WTVM) - Alabama law says sheriffs are entitled to pocket excess money used to feed inmates, but a lawsuit is challenging the claim.
Bobby Timmons is the Executive Director of the Alabama Sheriffs Association. Timmons said he filed a show-cause suit against the Southern Center for Human Rights to find out what exactly the organization is looking for in its lawsuit. The suit claims 49 sheriffs are violating public records law by not providing the amount of money being pocketed from inmate food funds.
East Alabama Sheriffs Andre Brunson, Leroy Upshaw, Sid Lockhart, and Jay Jones are named in this suit, which according to those involved, is a debate on what is private versus a public record.
"I don't know of a sheriff violating the open records law," said Timmons.
Alabama law states you can request open records in person and they should be provided to you unless a reason of 'why not' is provided.
Timmons said a request through email isn't valid according to law and is what the Southern Center for Human Rights is using for some cases.
Attorney Aaron Littman, for the Southern Center for Human Rights, said their organization hopes to expose a practice of pocketing inmate food money, which the organization believes is illegal.
"This is for us to know, and the public to know how much money different sheriffs are making off this," said Littman. "That interpretation is wrong. They aren't entitled to personal profit."
Controversy recently sparked when details emerged about Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin and the amount of inmate-feeding funds he had pocketed, and the fact that he and his wife bought a $740,000 beach house in September.
"He utilized his money in the same manner you utilize your money. What part is his, is his to do as he sees fit," said Timmons. "Someone made the comment he should've taken the money and given it to charity. Well nobody has ever given their bonus money to charity when they get a bonus from the company they work for."
Timmons said The Southern Center for Human Rights or Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice cannot name one sheriff that they have walked into the office and asked to see public records and been denied.
Meantime, the sheriffs association said this lawsuit could open the door for a potential change where the Department of Corrections or County Commission would have to deal with the grocery bill for inmates instead of the sheriffs.
"If they want to change this law, change it. They want to take the $1.75 or surplus, take it," said Timmons.