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DA takes on police during gag order; Lieutenant ‘Phil McGroin’ Renshaw testifies, Pepper chastises

May 18 – The ALEA video of Steve Perkins’ death, broadcast by a conservative news outlet, was edited with the help of Huntsville police and shown to Decatur officers because regulators felt the prosecution got the facts of the case wrong proposed, according to testimony at a hearing Friday on whether a temporary gag order in the murder case should be extended.

The Decatur Police Department command staff decided to share the video with all their officers “because there was so much misinformation,” said Capt. Rick Archer.

“We expected you to release the video,” he told District Attorney Scott Anderson.

“Well, you were wrong,” said Anderson, who is demanding a continuation of the gag order. “Was there a sense among the command staff that some of the misrepresentations were coming from the DA’s office?”

“Yes,” Archer said.

Archer originally received the video from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and claimed he was told DPD could do whatever they wanted with it, according to his affidavit he filed earlier this week in an effort to get him released from the hearing.

Captain George Silvestri said his officers “deserved” and “needed” to know exactly what happened.

Anderson asked how often in other murder cases, in Silvestri’s experience, evidence was shared in an ongoing murder case.

“This is the only one,” he replied.

Before Decatur officers took the stand, lead investigator and ALEA Special Agent Jamie King told the court that ALEA had captured a “critical incident video” of the shooting and delivered it to DPD on Dec. 26.

King described ALEA’s strict security measures for the video: The original file is locked and only King has access to it. There is also a digital log that keeps track of everyone who viewed the video. King said he saw the video published by a media outlet in March.

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“The audio content of the video appeared to have been altered,” he said.

Chief Todd Pinion was next. Anderson asked him if he believes it is a “serious matter” for a law enforcement officer to leak a video in a murder case.

“Yes sir,” replied Pinion. Pinion admitted that the video Archer distributed to the lieutenants on a USB drive was the same video that had been leaked.

“Have you shown a murder video to all the officers before?” Anderson asked.

“No sir.”

Anderson pressed Pinion and others on the “chain of custody” that Silvestri had ordered them to maintain regarding the flash drive containing the video. Apparently no logs were kept when the trip was passed from lieutenant to lieutenant.

“In my view, a Chain of Custody is a document. So there is actually no Chain of Custody?” Anderson asked.

“There is no document, yes sir,” Pinion replied.

In addition to showing the video to officers, Pinion said he showed it to Mayor Tab Bowling, Council President Jacob Ladner and Councilman Carlton McMasters “some time after the indictment.”

Pinion said he asked his officers during staff meetings who leaked the video. He said the “investigation” only began after Anderson filed a motion for a temporary silence order.

“Your investigation consisted of asking lieutenants if they had leaked it? Are there any other measures that DPD could have taken to better conduct the investigation?’

“I’m sure it is,” Pinion replied. “I think I could polygraph them.”

“Are you planning to?” Anderson asked.

“Don’t know.”

“When will you know?”

“Don’t know.”

Anderson asked if Pinion is aware of DPD officers sharing their thoughts on the case in online or public forums.

“I didn’t see anything,” Pinion said.

Anderson asked him if he knew, not if he had personally seen the messages. “Are you aware that they are making up fake names to share opinions anonymously?” he asked.

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“I stay away from social media,” Pinion said. He admitted that it was against DPD policy to discuss a pending case online.

James Marquette next testified. His son Mac Marquette, charged with Perkins’ murder, wore a blue suit with a high and tight haircut next to his attorney. Anderson asked James Marquette about a social media post in February in which he described the shooting as involving apparent foreknowledge. James Marquette said he had not seen the video, but that he made the post based on “messages sent to him.”

Lt. Joe Renshaw, who handcuffed Steve Perkins’ widow last month during a peaceful Third Friday demonstration, was asked again about the lack of a chain of custody over the USB drive. He was then asked about his online comments. He admitted to having several Facebook profiles with fake names.

“What names?” Anderson asked.

“I’d rather not say that,” Renshaw said. “I use them for research purposes.”

Marquette’s attorney objected to this questioning, and Judge Charles Elliott promptly dismissed it. Anderson approached the defense and showed them a screenshot.

“Is that you?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” Renshaw admitted. He read the name: ‘Phil McGroin.’

“Have you commented on the case under that name?” Anderson asked.

“Correct.”

During Archer’s testimony, he admitted that not only did he copy the video to a USB drive, but he also placed it on DPD’s computer network so that Pinion could access the video remotely.

“So it’s your testimony under oath that you had it on a system where IT could obtain it?” Anderson asked.

“I think so,” Archer replied.

Capt. Justin Lyon said the command staff decided to show the video to officers because they “had a disagreement about what was happening in public,” and that it affected morale. Lyon testified that he moved the video from the USB drive to his computer desktop.

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Internal Affairs Supervisor Lt. Selby De Leon said he took the video to the Huntsville Police Department and asked them to edit it before DPD showed all their officers. He said they redacted graphic parts of the video.

The state’s final witness, Councilman Hunter Pepper, was pressed over public comments he made in December describing information leaked to him prior to the disciplinary results of the officers involved in Perkins. Anderson asked him who leaked that information.

“I don’t remember,” Pepper said.

“Are you aware you’re under oath?” Anderson asked.

“We’ll wait,” Elliott said.

“Jeremy Goforth,” Pepper suddenly remembered. He said he only saw the video when it was published by the media.

After testifying, Elliott stopped Pepper as he left the courtroom. Elliott said he was made aware of a social media post Pepper made about his summons.

“I take anyone who is subpoenaed before me incredibly seriously,” Elliott said. ‘Earlier today I told some people that I am not an important person, but that I have an important role. Mr. Pepper, you are not an important person, but you do have an important role.

“Think about that before you ever post about a case where you’ve been served a subpoena.”

Attorneys for the defendant and the city virtually abandoned cross-examination of the state’s witnesses, with some half-hearted and largely overruled objections.

Elliott, who had a long day in court with a morning murder trial, ruled that the temporary gag order would remain in effect until he could review his notes. He said he would try to make a ruling as soon as possible.

“Do you know an officer who hasn’t seen the video?” Anderson had asked Archer.

“No.”

Everyone who testified denied leaking the video or knowing who did so.

– david.gambino@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438.

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