Witness has seizure during Little trial
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Oct 30, 2012 | 4276 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A courtroom scene Tuesday during the trial of Anniston City Councilman Ben Little. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
A courtroom scene Tuesday during the trial of Anniston City Councilman Ben Little. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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A medical emergency interrupted the trial Tuesday of Anniston City Councilman Ben Little when a former city employee on the witness stand had an apparent seizure.

The former employee, James Fluker, was taken by an Anniston EMS crew to Regional Medical Center after the seizure, which struck as he was being cross-examined by Little’s attorney.

Little is charged with violating Anniston’s Council-Manager Act, a state law setting forth the duties and powers of the city’s elected and appointed leaders. Fluker had alleged that Little ordered him retrieve a copy of a surveillance video showing the theft of two trailers from the Public Works Department parking lot. The Council-Manager Act prohibits individual council members from giving orders to city staff.

District Judge Mannon Bankson later said Fluker’s condition had improved and he was expected to be released from the hospital soon. However, June Fluker, James Fluker’s mother, later said Fluker would probably not be released from the hospital Tuesday.

The only punishment mentioned in state law for those found guilty of violating the Council-Manager Act is removal from office, but prosecutors said Little would need to have another misdemeanor conviction on his record for that to happen.

Assistant District Attorney Randy Moeller, who is prosecuting the case along with Eric Snyder, also an assistant district attorney, said it was important for the case to move forward because the law had been broken.

“Justice must be done,” Moeller said.

Regardless, the case may not be decided before Monday, the day Little’s third term is due to end. Seyram Selase is scheduled to take office Tuesday as the councilman representing Anniston’s Ward 3. Selase defeated Little for the post in the Aug. 28 election.

Fluker filed a formal statement with the Anniston Police Department in July that Little had ordered him to retrieve a DVD from a city surveillance camera showing the theft of the two trailers June 15.

On July 27, based on Fluker’s statement, Little was charged with violating the act.

According to testimony, Fluker reported to his supervisor that he had met with Little and area resident Ronald Heining after the City Council meeting on July 24. Fluker testified that Little asked him to get the copy of the recording from the surveillance camera. Fluker said Little wanted the tape to turn over to the state attorney general’s office.

Moeller asked Fluker if he felt he had the option of declining Little’s request. Fluker said he didn’t.

“He’s the councilman,” Fluker said.

According to testimony from City Manager Don Hoyt, later in July he spoke at a meeting of all Public Works employees about rumors that had been circulating through the department that employees were responsible for the theft of the trailers as well as other city property.

Hoyt said he called the meeting because the rumors were interfering with the efficiency of the department. During the meeting, Hoyt told the employees about the city’s whistleblower policy which would protect an employee who came forward with evidence of wrongdoing in the city. But, Hoyt said, he told the staff that unless they had firsthand knowledge of a crime, they should not repeat the rumors because it was detrimental to the department.

After the meeting, Fluker approached his supervisor Darrell Abernathy, Public Works Director Bob Dean and Hoyt about the rumors.

Hoyt testified that Fluker was upset and wasn’t making much sense, but he assured him he could come to talk to him.

Fluker, though, first told Abernathy about the encounter with Little.

Abernathy testified that Fluker met him at the department building about 5 the next morning and told him about his encounter with Little.

“He didn’t know what to do,” Abernathy said. “So I went to my supervisor with Mr. Fluker and let him explain what he had told me.”

Dean said when Fluker came to him, he took a formal statement from him.

“I went to the city manager who then contacted (Anniston Police) Chief (Layton) McGrady and the three of us sat down and reviewed the statement,” Dean said.

Anniston police Lieutenant Allen George became the investigator on the case. He testified he contacted Fluker and recorded his statement. Then, George testified that he asked Fluker if he would be willing to call Little about the surveillance video so the officers could tape the call. Fluker agreed.

The tape of the call and Fluker’s recorded statement were played during the trial.

During the call, Little asked Fluker about the meeting at Public Works.

“Did they threaten anybody at the meeting yesterday?” Little asked.

Fluker answered, “No.”

On the tape, Little requested that Fluker collect statements from other employees and turn them over to Hoyt and give him a copy, too.

Fluker said, “Yes, sir.”

Fluker asked what Little wanted him to do about the video on Darrell Abernathy’s desk.

“If somebody could throw me a copy underneath my door,” Little said. “I’ll look at it.”

Fluker asked if Little wanted him to get it.

“Anybody just slide it underneath the door,” Little responded. “I don’t need to know who did it.”

During his questioning of the witnesses, Attorney Raymond Johnson, who is representing Little, asked Hoyt, Dean and Abernathy if they had ever ordered Fluker to give evidence against Little or threatened Fluker’s job. They all said no.

Johnson also asked Hoyt if the allegations of employee theft were being investigated by the Alabama Ethics Commission. Hoyt said he had been contacted by representatives of the commission and was providing them information. The trial was adjourned at Johnson’s request. He said until Fluker finished testifying, he could not call his witnesses.

If Fluker is able, the trial will continue today.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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