Pastor wants public apology for mistaken placement on sheriff’s ‘wanted’ list

By BRAD GASKINS

COLUMBIANA – It was, both sides agree, a case of mistaken identity.

Last year, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Kenneth Dukes, charging the 43-year-old Montevallo pastor with unlawful possession of a controlled substance after someone who looked similar to him sold marijuana to a confidential informant.

It was a mistake, the sheriff’s office said. Dukes never sold marijuana to anyone.

The sheriff’s office issued Dukes an apology, and sheriff’s officials went to Dukes’ church to publicly apologize for the mishap, Dukes said.

Still, Dukes appeared before the Shelby County Commission on Feb. 28 and said he wants an even more public apology from the sheriff’s office and compensation for his family. If he doesn’t get it, Dukes said, then he will sue the county over the incident, which started May 21, 2010.

On that day, the sheriff’s office issued the warrant for Dukes’ arrest and put his photo on the sheriff’s office website beneath a heading that read “WANTED.”

“I got a call from one of my members that said there was a warrant for my arrest on Shelby County’s website,” Dukes told commissioners. “I got on the website and I saw my image.”

Dukes said he contacted the sheriff’s office, was told there was indeed a warrant for his arrest and that he should come turn himself in “which wasn’t going to happen,” said Dukes, adding that he’d never so much as had a traffic ticket in Alabama.

Dukes, a 1986 graduate of Montevallo High School and current preacher at Holly Grove Baptist Church in Jemison, said it took nearly a month to get his name and photo removed from the website.

Dukes provided commissioners with a copy of an undated letter from the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force, signed by task force commander Lt. Chris George, Chief Dep. John Samaniego and Sheriff Chris Curry.

“On June 22, 2010, the SCDETF discovered this warrant had been issued in error based on an incorrect identification of Kenneth Earl Dukes. The actual subject who sold the marijuana has a strong physical resemblance to Mr. Dukes,” the letter reads. “Immediately, the SCDETF recalled the warrant from the Clerk’s office, removed the information from the National Crime Information Center, removed any information related to the case from our ‘Most-Wanted’ site, and informed the prosecutor of the mistake involving the confidential informant with a request that we review previous cases made by the confidential informant.”

The letter states that the task force’s “system failed” and the sheriff’s office would “make certain that a complete review of our procedure for identifying suspects in our cases is complete and make any changes necessary to insure that these types of mistakes do not happen in the future.”

Furthermore, the letter concludes, “Kenneth Earl Dukes was not involved, nor has ever been to our knowledge, in any drug related activity. This was mistaken identity.”

Curry also offered a personal apology to Dukes, Dukes said.

“It may have been a mistake, but it’s a mistake that should not have been made,” Dukes told commissioners. “It has affected my character and my reputation. It has affected my family. It affects me as a pastor and what I stand for and represent.”

Dukes said his “wanted” photo was left on the internet for a month and that he wants the sheriff “to get on the world wide web and publicly apologize to me to the world” for that same amount of time.

Also, Dukes said, “I feel like my family should be compensated for what we have been through and what we have gone through.”

“I’m not trying to make it a racial issue, but I asked Sheriff Curry, how many white pastors have you falsely accused or put their image on the website?” Dukes told commissioners.

According to Dukes, Curry responded by saying it wasn’t a racial issue at all.

“I’m not making it racial, but you don’t make that mistake in certain communities,” Dukes told commissioners. “You don’t make that mistake in other parts of the county, but you can come to Montevallo and you can make a mistake of that nature, and you feel like you’re going to tell me you’re sorry and that’s it.”

Dukes said he wanted the commission to tell the sheriff’s office “either you make it right with him (Dukes) or we will cut your funding to the bare minimum of what the state requires.”

“I know this commission does not govern the sheriff’s office, but you pay their bills,” Dukes told commissioners.

The commission took no action during the meeting,

Instead, it held an executive session afterwards. County Attorney Butch Ellis, speaking behind closed doors, updated commissioners on the legal status surrounding the case.

“Rev. Dukes has, in fact, had a lawyer write to us, and he’s filed a demand for $75,000,” Ellis said March 1. “As is always the case when a lawyer becomes involved or there is a demand for money, it is turned over to our insurance carrier.”

Ellis noted that the sheriff’s office has issued an apology for the incident.

“We’re all sorry this happened,” Ellis said, “but when a claim is made for $75,000, it’s out of the hands of the county commission.”