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Wormsby: If we want to reduce crime, handle career criminals differently

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Hollis Wormsby, Jr
By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.

On July 5, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested 40 year old Chico Rodriguez Allen on an outstanding failure to appear in court warrant. They arrested him as he attempted to flee a motel on Crestwood Boulevard. In his vehicle they found drugs, dollars and a stolen handgun. The arrest in the vehicle led to a warrant to search the hotel room where more drugs were found and it was determined that Allen was running a human trafficking operation out of the hotel room, with women being held there against their will.

Indications are that Allen is a career criminal, and that the limited incarceration he has faced to date has done little to deter his ongoing criminal activities. Allen is exemplary of the reason the crime rate is so high in Birmingham. In two days he racked up more than 10 felony charges, and based on his violent history he is now being held without bail. But in the reading of an excellent summary of his violent history, in an article by Carol Robinson when this story first broke, I am left to wonder how someone with his history was able to be out and free amongst us in the first place.

It appears that Allen’s criminal history goes back at least as far as 2004, when he pleaded guilty to felony theft of property and was sentenced to one year. In 2012, he was one of two men charged with the rape of a 22-year-old acquaintance. Those charges should have gotten him sent away for a long time, but it does not appear that those charges were ever adjudicated. In 2014, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of third degree robbery and was again given only a slap on the wrist, with a 13 year sentence with 18 months to serve. This is a pattern we see again and again in Jefferson County Courts, especially in trials where the victims were poor people. I am going to say this again and again until it seems someone who counts has heard me, that in 2018 maybe the Civil Rights movements’ aim should be to protect non-criminal citizens from the revolving door of justice that contributes to the continuing outpouring of violence in our community.

I have done many interviews on this issue over the years and heard from credible persons what some of the challenges are in getting more suitable outcomes in court. The biggest problem that I hear about over and over again is the difficulty in getting credible witnesses to testify. Either because of legitimate fear from victims and potential witnesses or because all of the persons involved in the crime have no credibility, one of the primary reasons that violent offenders get these unacceptable suspended sentences is that a prosecutor is facing the second or third time they have showed up for trial without major witnesses showing up, and the choice becomes offer the unacceptable split sentence or let the defendant walk away with no consequence. So in this case both the community and the prosecution must do better.

The other thing that needs to be addressed is making the split sentence a more meaningful tool of punishment. In this case it says that Allen was given a split sentence with 18 months to serve. That is all well and good, but under Alabama law once the person is no longer on probation they are no longer subject to the consequence of the split sentence. So, an 18 year sentence with 15 months to serve, will probably wind up being a 27 months sentence, since probation in Alabama is frequently only 12 months because of budget issues.

A few bad guys continue to have a disproportionate impact on the ability of citizens in Birmingham to enjoy our city in peace and prosperity. We again need to continue to address the no snitching culture that is so embedded in our community and we need to stop trying to hide our heads in sand rather than facing the real problems. The reality is that those of us who want to live in peace, are at war with those who want to live the bangin’ lifestyle, and right now they appear to be winning. If we want Birmingham to be a better place, the Chico Allens need to get fewer chances to continue their recklessness, and some of us need to grow a spine and go testify to what we have seen.

Or at least that’s the way I see it.

(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at hjwormsby@aol.com.)