Donald V. Watkins
Prim Escalona: Woodfin’s Partner In Failed Leadership
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on December 28, 2022
An Editorial Opinion
On July 16, 2020, Prim F. Escalona was appointed as Interim U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama by outgoing U.S. Attorney General William Barr. The Northern District of Alabama encompasses Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Huntsville.
Ms. Escalona replaced Jay Town, a Donald Trump-appointee who resigned in disgrace in 2020 after he was caught chugging down drinks with Alabama Power Company CEO Mark Crosswhite in a clandestine meeting at a secluded lounge in Birmingham.
At the time, Crosswhite had been implicated in the North Birmingham Bribery Case of former state representative Oliver Robinson and two co-defendants. Alabama Power provided $30,000 of the $360,000 used to bribe Oliver Robinson.
As the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and as a longtime political minion of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), Jay Town made sure that Crosswhite was not charged and prosecuted for his involvement in the bribery scheme.
Last month, Crosswhite was forced by the Southern Company to take an early "retirement" from Alabama Power Company. Crosswhite learned about his "retirement" from the news media.
A Trump-Era Holdover
Prim Escalona is a Trump-era holdover in the U.S. Attorney’s office. To this day, President Joe Biden has not explained why a Trump-appointee still serves as the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham -- two years after Biden was sworn-in as president.
As U.S. Attorney, Escalona is responsible for the prosecution of federal criminal offenses in the district and representing the United States in civil prosecutions and collecting debts owed to the state. She oversees about 98 employees, consisting of 48 Assistant United States Attorneys, 38 support staff, and 12 contract support personnel.
In my view, Prim Escalona is Mayor Randall Woodfin’s partner in failed leadership. Remember, Woodfin is also an attorney and former city prosecutor.
Despite having access to (a) the full resources of the U.S. Department of Justice and (b) a vast array of federal laws designed to fight violent street crime, Escalona has joined Woodfin in ceding control of Birmingham’s streets and neighborhoods to violent gang members, drug dealers, and other ruthless street criminals.
Federal, state, and city law enforcement agencies in the metro-Birmingham area have a thousand or more paid and unpaid informants who provide them with information on criminal activity in the city. When properly trained, deployed, and directed, these informants can provide a host of valuable and actionable information that prevents violent street crimes before they happen.
To a large extent, this is not happening in Birmingham today solely because the executive leadership teams in the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Mayor's Office do not have the qualifications and experience necessary to effectively combat violent street crime.
Escalona Looks Good on Paper, But Lacks Urban Crime-fighting Experience
Prior to her appointment, Prim Escalona held multiple leadership positions within the Department of Justice, including in the Office of Legislative Affairs and the Office of Legal Policy.
Prior to her tenure at the Department of Justice, Escalona served as Deputy Solicitor General in the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Alabama, was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, and worked in private practice. Escalona also served as a law clerk for Judge William H. Pryor Jr. on the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Prim Escalona received her law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law, where she graduated summa cum laude and Order of the Coif. Escalona received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Birmingham Southern College, where she graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
Like Mayor Woodfin, Prim Escalona looks good on paper. However, she has no real-life experience in preventing violent crime and prosecuting hardcore street criminals.
There is no question that Escalona is exceptionally bright from an academic standpoint. However, except for the time Escalona spent attending Birmingham Southern College (which is walled-off from the surrounding black community), it does not appear that she has spent any significant amount of time in the streets of West Birmingham. This is one of the communities where young gang members and drug dealers kill innocent victims at will.
Lloyd Peeples, the chief of Escalona’s Criminal Division, was a failed Birmingham-area pizza restaurant operator in October of 2017. Peeples' financially struggling "Your Pie" restaurant closed only 11 months after he opened it.
Jay Town hired Peeples, a homegrown bigot with a documented history of hostility towards women and people of color, to carry out “hit” jobs on some of Sen. Shelby's political enemies. If the judges in the Birmingham federal courthouse did not coddle Peeples in the courtroom, he would never win a criminal case.
Career federal prosecutors who are experienced in fighting violent street crimes have an arsenal of criminal laws they can use to combat the skyrocketing homicides in Birmingham. Because Escalona, Peeples, and their team of criminal prosecutors spend their time “majoring” in “minors,” the killing spree in Birmingham continues unabated.
The homicide numbers in Birmingham for 2022 (i.e., 144 victims, as of December 27th) suggest that Escalona and Woodfin are not doing enough to combat the skyrocketing number of murders in the city. Escalona’s background in legislative affairs and legal policy is NOT what is needed in an urban combat zone where the law enforcement battles with vicious street criminals are non-stop and escalating.
The fact that Escalona is still in the U.S. Attorney's job today is Joe Biden’s fault. Biden must answer for this lapse in political and law enforcement judgment if and when he runs for re-election in 2024.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It’s just a matter of time before the violent street crime that is flourishing in Birmingham spills over into the neighboring suburban cities of Hoover, Vestavia, Homewood, and Mountain Brook.
Sadly, this is exactly what happened in Atlanta when violent crime spilled over into the adjoining Buckhead and Sandy Springs communities.
Escalona’s and Woodfin’s inexperience in criminal law enforcement is exacting a heavy toll on the innocent victims of violent crime in Birmingham.
Today, the killings in Birmingham are mostly black-on-black crimes. In the near future, I expect to see a surge in black-on-white violent crime in Birmingham’s suburbs.
When this surge happens, property values in the suburbs will plummet, as they have done in Birmingham.