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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

I Survived a Law Enforcement Lynching

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on October 10, 2021

I knew they would eventually come for me. When I visited Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robbens Island in 2012, I prayed in silence, alone, for about 10 minutes or so and asked God to give me the strength that he gave Mandela when they came for him.

They had been trying to indict me on some charge -- any charge -- since 1975. They came hard and heavy at me in Birmingham in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Then, in 2013, they launched a Blitzkrieg that ultimately produced a law enforcement lynching of my oldest son and me. Through it all, my son and I maintained our innocence.

To many of them, including a few federal and state court judges in Alabama, I am an uppity, arrogant, "nigger lawyer" (their words, not mine) and "trouble-maker who meddles in white folks business." Again, these are their words, not mine.

Why They Came for Me

My landmark legal cases since 1974 have desegregated a litany of federal, state, and local government bodies and agencies in Alabama. I also desegregated the faculties and staffs of 68 of the state's public K-12 school systems. My cases also desegregated all of the state's community colleges and technical schools.

My 25 years of litigation against Alabama's system of higher education desegregated the state's 32 four-year public colleges and universities. This landmark case also resulted in an unprecedented award of nearly $600 million in state-funded educational enhancement funding and endowment money for historically black Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University, together with exclusive, first-of-their-kind PhD programs at these two universities. The litigation also increased the state's annual appropriations for the Alabama State's and Alabama A&M's operating and capital budgets.

This case was met with massive resistance from state officials and torrid hate mail from whites in and around Alabama.

For this, I knew they were coming for me.

I cleared the names of the nine black teenage "Scottsboro Boys" who were arrested in 1931 and falsely accused of raping two white teenage prostitutes on a freight train passing through Paint Rock, Alabama. In November 1976, I won a full and unconditional pardon (based upon proof of innocence) for Mr. Clarence Norris, the last surviving "Scottsboro Boy." Mr. Norris' pardon ended the "Boys’" 45-year legal nightmare in Alabama's racially biased criminal justice system.

Over the next fifteen years, I investigated and solved a record number of police shootings of innocent, unarmed black men in Alabama. More than two dozen white law enforcement officers were fired or forced to resign from police departments as a result of my investigations, published reports, and wrongful death lawsuits.

I also forced the resignations of Montgomery, Alabama mayor Jim Robinson, Montgomery Public Safety Director Ed Wright, and eight police officers in 1977 for covering up the 1975 police murder of Bernard Whitehurst, an innocent, unarmed black man who happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The Washington Post called Whitehurst's murder and the subsequent police cover-up of his murder, "Alabama's Watergate."

For this, I knew they would come for me.

I forced the resignation of Chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Fuller (in Montgomery, Alabama) in 2016 by exposing his serial wife-beating conduct in an exclusive series of investigative articles I wrote and published in 2015 and 2016. While serving as a federal judge, Fuller, who was a married playboy, used his judicial position, his courtroom, and his judge's chambers to carry on extra-marital affairs with his married courtroom bailiff and a young, single, female law clerk.

I also forced the resignation of two-term Alabama governor Robert Bentley in 2017 following my publication of two series of investigative articles ("Forbidden Love" and Executive Betrayal") in 2015 that exposed Bentley's "sex-for-power" and public corruption scandal with his married lover, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Bentley, who was married while he carried on a torrid love affair with Mason, used taxpayers' dollars and campaign funds to finance his romantic escapades with her.

A vindictive Bentley used his power as governor and influence as the "Chief Magistrate of Alabama" to encourage state and federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies to initiate civil and/or criminal proceedings against me. The Alabama State Banking Department (ASBD), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Reserve Board (FRB), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Alabama Department of Revenue (ADR), the U.S. U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham, and the City of Birmingham obliged Bentley by opening regulatory and law enforcement investigations of me and my businesses.

Bentley also pressured Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier to open a criminal investigation of me without providing Collier any evidence that I had committed criminal activity. Collier refused to do so, and was promptly fired by Bentley.

In 2017, Bentley pled guilty to ethics violations he committed as governor.

For this, I knew they were coming for me.

In 2016, I exposed the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Department's cover-up in the July 2015 reported rape of University of Alabama honors student Megan Rondini. Rondini committed suicide after local law enforcement authorities refused to prosecute her accused rapist -- Tuscaloosa businessman, T.J. "Sweet T" Bunn, Jr. All of the parties that were complicit in obstructing justice in Megan Rondini's rape case and in contributing to her subsequent suicide eventually settled with her estate.

I also exposed the murder of Northport, Alabama resident Adam Bailey by the adult children of well-connected families in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and broke open the subsequent police cover-up of Adam's murder.

For this, I knew they were coming for me.

On the political front, I exposed efforts by white Democrats in Alabama, various media pundits, and their black political "bellhops" in October 2016 to conduct a media and political lynching of longtime civil rights leader, Dr. Joe L. Reed. As an independent voter, I had some serious political differences with Dr. Reed at the time. Yet, I made it clear in an article titled, "There Will Be No Lynching of Dr. Joe L. Reed Today," that "I will not allow the Democratic Party or anyone else who was missing in action during our long, hard, and difficult struggle to advance civil rights and equal opportunity in Alabama to politically lynch Dr. Reed without a fight."

I also kept the forces that oppose civil rights for people of color and women in Alabama from sending former Birmingham mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., former Chief U.S. District Court Judge U.W. Clemon (Birmingham), and former state representative John F. Knight (D-Montgomery) to jail on trumped up public corruption charges. I knew that the contemplated criminal charges against these black civil rights leaders were bogus and that the law enforcement officials who were bringing them were media-savvy racists who had zero credibility in the black community. The misconduct committed by federal prosecutors in the Arrington and Clemon cases is set forth in published reports in the Congressional Record-Senate Journal.

For this, I knew they were coming for me.

In 2016, I solved the July 2005 murder of 19-year-old Army private LaVena Johnson, who was black, by four-star general Kevin P. Byrnes, who is white, on a U.S. military base in Balad, Iraq. I also exposed the Pentagon's subsequent cover-up of Private Johnson's murder.

Within weeks of the murder, President George W. Bush was privately briefed at the White House on Private Johnson's death by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Central Commander for Iraqi war operations. After the briefing, Rumsfeld kicked Gen. Byrnes out of the Army -- approximately three months prior to his previously announced retirement date. Immediately thereafter, the Pentagon classified Private Johnson's homicide file as a "Top Secret" national security matter.

Private Johnson's murder file remains sealed today. It can only be declassified and released to the media upon the issuance of an order personally signed by the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For this, I knew they were coming for me.

In 2003, the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham indicted HealthSouth chief executive officer Richard Scrushy on 85 felony counts in a $2.7 billion accounting fraud scandal. If convicted, Scrushy faced up to 650 years in prison. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal characterized me as the "mastermind of the defense." In July of 2005, following a six-month trial and 28 days of jury deliberations, Scrushy was found "not guilty" on all charges. Fortune magazine featured the successful outcome of Scrushy's trial in an article titled, "Donald Watkins: The Man Who Saved Richard Scrushy."

The stunning victory in Scrushy's case humiliated the SEC's trial counsel in the companion civil case against him. These same lawyers, who were blasted by the federal judge in the SEC's 2003 civil case for their lawlessness, would later bring a fabricated fraud lawsuit against me in a friendly Atlanta federal court venue in 2016.

The white community's hatred towards me in Alabama was extremely vocal and hostile after the Scrushy "not guilty" verdicts. I was forced to move to Atlanta and Miami for my personal safety.

Yes, I knew they were coming for me. And, they did. With a vengeance.

They formed a lynch mob of federal and state law enforcement agencies and other support groups to hang me. A failed pizza restaurant operator, who was hired in 2017 as First Assistant U.S. Attorney in Birmingham, served as the ringleader of the lynch mob. His name is Lloyd Peeples. Tuscaloosa-based "dirty tricks" operator Joe Perkins also joined the lynch mob.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who single-handedly protected Gen. Kevin P. Byrnes from criminal prosecution for the murder of Private LaVena Johnson, coordinated the lynching of me from Washington. Using his four decades of seniority as a U.S. Senator and his leadership position on several key Senate oversight committees, Shelby, a Tuscaloosa native, made sure that each federal regulatory and law enforcement agency participating in the lynching had the direction and financial resources they needed to get the job done.

Shelby's lynch mob participants included the SEC, FDIC, FRB, IRS, FBI, and the U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham. Several local news reporters and columnists, who functioned in a modern-day COINTELPRO role, and the Alabama State Bar Association participated, as well. The ARD joined the lynch mob in late 2019.

The site of the lynching was the U.S. District Courthouse in Birmingham. During my 48-year tenure as a lawyer, thousands of blacks litigants and criminal defendants have been judicially lynched or railroaded in this courthouse. Sen. Shelby worked there as a U.S. Magistrate during the heyday of these judicial lynchings. Furthermore, as a U.S. Senator, Shelby has determined who would serve as an Article III federal judge in Alabama for the past three decades.

In 2015 and 2016, Mr. Andrew Kogan, chief of the Economic Crimes Division of the U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey in 2015 and 2016, investigated the same "investor fraud" allegations against me that were used by Peeples to spearhead the Birmingham lynching. Mr. Kogan cleared me of all wrongdoing. To his credit, Mr. Kogan refused to participate in the Alabama lynching of my son and me that was led by Lloyd Peeples.

All of my "sunshine" friends abandoned me. A few of them actually betrayed me. Many local white Alabamians and some misguided blacks cheered the lynch mob as they strung me up.

I knew the cavalry was not coming to save me. For more than four decades, I had functioned as the cavalry -- the one who saved everybody else.

I had to survive the lynching on my own. This is why the prayer at Mandela's prison cell held such special significance for me.

In the end, God favored me. He blessed me with the strength that he gave to Mandela.

I survived the lynching. Intact. With dignity. With new and true friends. With a bright future. And, with profound love in my heart for my family, my true friends, and the thousands of loyal supporters who comforted me along the long, difficult, and dark journey to the other side of midnight. I survived.

IMAGE: Attorney Donald Watkins following the Richard Scrushy verdict.

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