An Alabama officer gets to keep his job after being caught contemplating the murder of a black man and skewing the evidence to make it look like ‘self-defense’. The case was settled out of court. But the audio recording made it out.
Officer Troy Middlebrooks was heard on tape suggesting the killing of Vincent Bias – a man recently released on bail for drug-related offenses – then advocating playing it off as self-defense.
The Guardian managed to obtain a copy of the audio recording. The potential victim and Middlebrooks had apparently been at odds over an earlier run-in by Bias with police. The officer can be made out trying to concoct a plan to frame the man, because “we know he did it… we just don’t have the proof.”
In the middle of this, Middlebrooks, 33, a former Marine, suggests that Bias “needs a god-damn bullet.” A racial slur is also audible. The officer appeared very frustrated that the police couldn’t catch the alleged criminal and was proposing to escalate things. He would “f*cking kill” Bias, “And before the police got there, I’d f*cking put marks all over my sh*t and make it look like he was trying to f*cking kill me. I god-damn guarantee you.
“What would it look like? Self-f*cking-defense,” he adds in the recording obtained by the British newspaper.
The incident led to unexpected results, however. Even after the police and the city’s mayor were played the tape, they tried to hush the matter with an out-of-court settlement of $35,000 to Bias, in exchange for him not suing. Elected city councilors said they weren’t consulted on the matter.
The officer continues to police the city of some 15,000 people.
“This town is ridiculous,” Bias, 49, told reporters. “The police here feel they can do what they want, and often they do.”
But not everyone believes the case against Middlebrooks to be air-tight.
“He was just talking. He didn’t really mean that,” Alexander City Police Chief Willie Robinson said in his officer’s defense. In fact, while Middlebrooks himself wasn’t available for comment, Robinson tried to emphasize that the remarks were really an anger-driven fantasy about Bias’ own brother-in-law killing him, and not a confession of a personal desire to do so.
The tape dates back to May 2013, when Middlebrooks was called to Bias’ brother-in-law’s house on a complaint that a dog was off its leash. Once on the scene, he tried to convince the (white) relative to kill “that nigger” and proceeds to explain how he would do it, while also trying to influence the brother-in-law psychologically, by making him believe Bias was nothing but a menace to the family.
One interesting detail to emerge out of this is that Bias was handed a citation for the unleashed dog – when the dog actually belonged to his white brother-in-law.
The recording, however, was only made public now.
A separate lawsuit filed against the city outlines these details.
Asked if Robinson was going to take any further action, he said Middlebrooks had been “disciplined” when the recording came to light; but he also reiterated his assumption that Middlebrooks wasn’t planning to go through with the deed, and his wish that the matter had gone to court.
“I wish we’d went [sic] to court. I wish we had,” Robinson said. “It’s a whole lot different if you hear both sides.”
As for the lawsuit that got dropped, the chief attorney in the city told the Guardian it was the city authorities who made the decision to settle with Bias.
“The city didn’t ask me to get involved,” he said. But for Bias, this basically meant there was no wrongdoing admitted by the city.
Some councilors expressed shock and awe at having been left out of the loop on this. One representative was “absolutely flabbergasted,” while another other expressed “alarm.”
“This is absolutely unbelievable,” Councilor Tony Goss said. “Thirty-five thousand dollars is a lot of money and our city council is being left out of deliberation… If an officer is recorded saying something like that, there are potential grounds for termination.”