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Monday, April 15, 2024

Not there? Then where?

Editor’s note: The following is a Letter from the Community submitted by Parrish resident Ryan Cagle. Letters from the Community may be submitted by email to [email protected] or by private message on The Community Journal Facebook page.

It has been a week since the death certificate for Tony Mitchell was released to the public revealing that his death was ruled a homicide. In the week since this revelation Sheriff Nick Smith has taken to his official and personal facebook profiles to post nearly 50 times placing a heavy emphasis on notions of difficult times, negativity, and struggles that he seems to be facing in light of this situation. One such post made on Tuesday stated, “I believe the good I’ve done for 20 years means something- especially more than a personal attack.” It is the last line that prompts this letter. 

Based on the overall tone of these recent posts, and the ones that have dominated his facebook feed since Tony Mitchell’s death, I am going to make an assumption that his use of “personal attack” is referring to those of us who are calling for accountability and justice in the wake of Tony’s unjust murder. Far too often elected officials and those in power attempt to personalize and moralize a situation in an attempt to dismiss valid criticisms of their public positions while garnering sympathy from the public. When these types of tactics are wielded by our elected officials we should all be very concerned. 

Like we told reporters at the impromptu protest outside of the Walker County Jail on 3/1, none of this has anything to do with Nick Smith as a person, but rather as an elected official who we believe has failed our community. We are not protesting Nick Smith the son, father, husband, friend, church goer, bowler or any other aspect of who he is as an individual person, but rather who he is in his official capacity. Any attempt to frame our efforts otherwise is disingenuous at best, and outright deceitful at worst. All the “good” Nick has done over the last 20 years may in fact “mean something,” but it absolutely does not in any way mean that he is somehow above critique, much less absolves him of his complicity in Tony’s murder. To contend otherwise would be truly absurd. Our elected officials are beholden to their constituents, or at least they are supposed to be. 

We have gone out of our way to be respectful in this situation and have spoken about this in no uncertain terms both before the public and directly to Nick Smith on multiple occasions over the last year. Which leaves us to believe that Nick Smith is either refusing to listen, wants to intentionally perpetuate a false narrative, or is simply incapable of accepting the fact that this ultimately has nothing to do with him as an individual person, much less some assumed hateful agenda. 

As Nick said elsewhere in the previously mentioned post, we too “love Walker County,” and that is exactly why we have spent so much time in the last year both calling and fighting for justice. It’s love that drives us, not hate. And while we will be the first to say that we have plenty of anger and rage over this situation, to frame it as hate, or a “personal attack” could not be farther from the truth. We are not calling Nick Smith, or anyone else at the WCSO out. We are calling them back into our community, and that means holding them accountable for the harm that has been caused under Nick’s leadership. 

We ALL deserve a different Walker County where we can rest assured knowing that those charged with “serving” and “protecting” us will in fact do just that, but the last year has more than warranted our skepticism of the WCSO and Nick’s leadership as Sheriff. 

As Nick said so aptly, in his official response to Tony’s death certificate being released to the public, he was “not there.” 

He was “not there” for Tony when he was fighting for his life right under his nose. 

He was “not there” as his deputies mistreated and abused Tony for two weeks.

He was “not there” as Tony’s body succumbed to sepsis and hypothermia. 

He was “not there” when it took his deputies half an hour to transport Tony from the jail to the hospital. 

He was “not there” when it came time to hold his officers accountable for spewing vitriol about Tony’s family on the official WCSO facebook page. 

He was “not there” to correct the false statements made to the family and to the public by his deputies.

So, it seems that we and Nick Smith finally agree on something because according to his own admission he was nowhere to be found when a helpless man was tortured, and murdered in his jail. So our question is, how in the world can he expect anyone in this community to believe that he will be there to serve and protect us when we need him the most?  

The brass tacks is this- a man died due to homicidal neglect under the Sheriff’s supervision and instead of receiving demands for accountability for what they are, Nick seems to be attempting, intentionally or otherwise, to paint himself as the victim in a situation in which a man was murdered in his custody. Instead of owning the harm caused by his department Nick continues to paint himself as someone being persecuted, but let us be very clear… 

Nick Smith ain’t no martyr, and no one wants him to be. 

It ain’t personal, its accountability.

— Ryan Cagle, Parrish, Ala.

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