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  • Donald V. Watkins

The Todd Road Incident: Funeral Mourners Portrayed As Vicious Criminals

Updated: Feb 20, 2018

By: Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Originally Published (via Facebook) on April 28, 2014; Updated and Republished on February 12, 2018


They beat some of the men for hours. They used thick Yellow Pages phone books to inflict the physical pain because these instruments of torture would not leave lasting marks on the hands, thighs, buttocks, and chests of the detainees. The beatings constituted swift and sure retribution for what had occurred hours earlier on Todd Road in the Madison Park community of Montgomery, Alabama.


The police officers who were manning the City jail that night ignored the screams of pain from the men who were beaten. The other inmates in the jail knew what was happening because inmate beatings were routine for violent offenses against police officers.


The beatings stopped when I made an unexpected and unannounced visit to the Montgomery City Jail on the night of the infamous Todd Road incident. I was a Montgomery City Councilman at the time and heard the incident unfold over a police radio scanner in my home.


The radio traffic on the scanner was unbelievable. Shots were fired earlier that night inside a house on Todd Road. Two officers had been hit and seriously wounded by gunfire. They had been beaten and tortured by the occupants of the house during some sort of melee. Twenty-three black family members, who were described as armed and dangerous, had been taken into police custody. Eleven of them were eventually arrested and faced 66 felony charges.


The address on Todd Road matched an address of Annie Bell Taylor, a respected black Madison Park resident whose funeral had been held earlier that day.


What really happened on Todd Road? Why would funeral mourners seize police officers as hostages and shoot and torture them after a relative’s funeral?


My Unexpected Visit to the Montgomery City Jail


When I arrived at the jail, I flashed my City Councilman’s badge and demanded to see the Taylor men – Willie James Taylor, Worrie Taylor, and Johnny Taylor. Word quickly spread that I was in the building. By this point in my career, I had earned a reputation around the City for fighting hard against racial injustices and for exposing police brutality against black citizens.


They brought the men into the visitor’s room. I instructed the police officers to leave me alone with them. They were frightened and shaking. It was obvious that each one of them had been abused. Their eyes were still red from crying. They immediately told me about the beatings and showed me how they were administered. I told them that I was there as a City Councilman to find out what had happened earlier that night at the Taylor home on Todd Road.


What they described to me that night became known around the nation as the infamous “Todd Road Incident.” As a Councilman and seasoned trial lawyer, I immediately formed a City Council committee of one under Montgomery’s Mayor-Council Act and launched a committee investigation on the spot that would later produce a detailed report about the incident. This report would alter the course of the police department’s official version of events and bend the arc of justice toward truth and freedom for the entire Taylor family.


The Truth About What Happened on Todd Road


It was the evening of February 28, 1983. Out-of-state members of the Taylor family were mourning the death of Annie Bell Taylor, their beloved mother, grandmother, and family matriarch, in Madison Park, a small black community in Montgomery. Two white plain-clothes police officers in an unmarked police car mistook the Michigan and Ohio mourners' license plates as a gathering of drug dealers from other states. For no apparent reason, officers Les Brown and Eddie Spivey angrily confronted 21-year old Christopher Taylor, one of Ms. Taylor’s grandsons, outside the house. Unaware of their status and frightened, Christopher ran from them. Without provocation, the officers shot Christopher as he was running toward the house. When a wounded and bleeding Christopher made it through the front door of the house and told family members what had just occurred, they were shocked, afraid, and very angry.


Unbelievably, the officers took it upon themselves to raid the funeral gathering by entering the front door. Violence erupted in and around the home as they stormed the house. The mourners believed they were under a violent attack or home invasion by two white intruders. The men inside the house instinctively tried to protect their children, wives, and other family members from two strangers brandishing guns, while simultaneously nursing and protecting a wounded family member. The last thing they ever expected after burying the family’s matriarch was a home invasion by two strangers who never showed their police badges or announced their presence as police officers.


The officers had no search warrant to enter the house. No crime had been committed in their presence. They saw black people with nice cars and out-of-state license plates in a modest black neighborhood and automatically assumed that this was a gathering of drug dealers.


This was a classic case of racial profiling with a very tragic result for both sides.


Both officers had been shot and beaten during the attack. The family "stood their ground" and called for police help once they subdued the home invaders.


I later discovered that the police department recordings of the Taylors' 911 calls and other radio traffic on that evening had been erased. The act of evidence destruction occurred even though I had specifically requested during my jail visit that the tapes be preserved.


When responding police officers arrived on the scene, more shots were fired. The original two officers were rescued from the house. The Taylor family members surrendered to police.

All of the 23 mourners at the house were taken into custody. Eleven of them were subsequently arrested, and some of them were brutalized while in police custody. The arrested family members were charged with robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder in connection with the incident.


Prior to this incident, none of the family members had a criminal record of any kind. All of them had good jobs in Michigan and Ohio. They were respected and productive citizens in their communities.


Epilogue


The legal ordeal to free them was long and hard. The barriers to justice seemed insurmountable. The psychological ordeal for the Taylor family was unimaginable.


My investigative report was provided to the City Council and Montgomery District Attorney Jimmy Evans. The report, along with the brilliant work of the Taylors' defense team, resulted in the dismissal of all charges against seven family members, and all kidnapping and robbery charges against the other four. The attempted murder felony charges against the remaining four family members were reduced to misdemeanor assault charges. After they pleaded “no contest” to the charges and paid a small fine, the case was over.


When my four-year council term ended in November 1983, Emory Folmar, Montgomery’s ultra-conservative Republican mayor, told to the City Council that my departure from the Council “was one of the greatest blessings since the Yankee troops went home in 1870." Folmar affirmed this statement in a May 15, 2002 Washington Post article.


Sadly, Todd Road is what happens when negative racial stereotypes clash with the reality of those who are being demeaned by them. The result is often ugly and painful for all involved.


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.