Tuscaloosa Sheriff Ron Abernathy Claims He Has Been Defamed
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 16, 2018
Today, Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy joined a long list of "public officials" and "public figures" who claim that they have been defamed by those who seek to hold them accountable for their demonstrated failure to protect the lives and safety of rape victims. Abernathy has been the subject of numerous online news articles on this subject because of his role in “scripting” the 2015 rape investigation of University of Alabama honors student Megan Rondini.
Megan committed suicide in 2016 after the rape “suspect” in her case escaped criminal justice. Meanwhile, this “suspect”, who is known in Tuscaloosa, Alabama as a sexual predator, roams local bars and clubs in this college town in search of young college-age women for sexual gratification.
The rape “suspect” in Megan's case is privately referred to in some law enforcement circles as a “dirt bag”. Yet, he is untouchable because his family members are mega donors to the Alabama Crimson Tide Foundation that supports the University’s championship football program. Additionally, Abernathy's wife Leslie heads major fundraising initiatives for The University of Alabama.
Sheriff Abernathy says an independent review of his office’s handling of the Megan Rondini rape investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing in the case. Specifically, Abernathy claims “the Alabama Attorney General’s Office reviewed the case and approved our investigators’ actions, and the investigative process.”
It is widely known in Alabama that Attorney General Steve Marshall was handpicked by former governor Robert Bentley in February 2017 for a gubernatorial appointment the AG’s position because Bentley believed Marshall was the weakest prosecutor in the state. At the time, Bentley was under an Attorney General's Office criminal investigation for violations of state ethics laws.
In April 2017, Steve Marshall approved a controversial plea deal in Governor Bentley’s criminal case in which four felony charges against Bentley were reduced to misdemeanor charges. Bentley promptly pled guilty to the misdemeanors and received a no-jail-time sentence. He resigned as governor on the same day. Bentley’s “sweetheart” plea deal with Marshall put a "happy face" smile on the former governor as he was arrested and booked at the Montgomery County Courthouse. Bentley's mugshot, which is pictured below, says it all.
Abernathy sees Marshall’s review of his actions in Megan Rondini’s rape case as vindication of the Sheriff’s Department’s investigative actions and process. Marshall, a former Marshall County, Alabama district attorney, lacks experience in prosecuting rape cases. What is more, Marshall also has a history of looking the other way when victims like Donna Dunlap complain about “horrific” sexual assaults.
Abernathy’s statement also points to the January 8, 2018 dismissal of two Sheriff’s Department investigators and himself from a federal lawsuit filed against them by the family of Megan Rondini. Abernathy suggests that this court action cleared him of wrongdoing. It did not. The dismissal was based upon the court's recognition of the "qualified immunity" government officials enjoy for their official actions, as opposed to a judicial finding that Abernathy and his investigators acted properly in the Rondini rape case.
Sheriff Abernathy's statement regarding his dismissal as a defendant in the Rondini lawsuit is reprinted in full below:
“When I was elected Sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, I understood the public position I was taking and that criticism often comes with it. As Sheriff, unwarranted attacks on my character and judgement come with the job, except for intentional, false, misleading and malicious conduct. We trust that the truth will ultimately prevail. After several months of unjust accusations against my office and other Tuscaloosa law enforcement agencies, the truth has indeed finally prevailed.
A lawsuit filed against two investigators and me regarding the Megan Rondini suicide has been dismissed. It was dismissed because it was unfounded from the beginning. The investigation that was the subject of the lawsuit has been examined thoroughly and completely by several entities, and actions taken by Sheriff’s Office investigators have been affirmed. After it was investigated, it was heard in its entirety by a Grand Jury. No probable cause that a crime had occurred was found and no indictment was issued. Our actions were questioned and, at my request, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office reviewed the case and approved our investigators’ actions, and the investigative process. Finally, a federal district court decided the case and dismissed all civil litigation against me and against the investigators. This case and the investigation has undergone complete scrutiny, proving beyond any doubt that the accusations previously made against the Sheriff’s Office and our community were completely false.
We hope this incident will serve as a lesson to all that social media cannot, and should not, be the venue in which any case is tried, and that social media sites should not be trusted as a reliable source of substantiated information regarding important matters. False allegations made by internet bloggers and certain out of state journalists, and perpetuated by local political hacks have done damage to our community in that some victims have been reluctant to come forward to report cases, fearing that their information will be made known on social media. For those who have facilitated these injustices on Facebook and other sites, civil litigation should be expected, if for no other reason than to prevent this from occurring in the future. Baseless slander directed against innocent parties should be addressed and the offending parties held accountable. Those who perpetuate the false allegations for their own political gain should be held accountable. Their lack of integrity and self-serving disregard for the truth resulted in an unjustified attack on our community and many of its most respected institutions. Our message must be strong and clear, that libelous behavior will not be tolerated.”
Ron Abernathy's press statement today raises more questions than it answered. For example, did Attorney General Steve Marshall issue a written report about this matter? If so, where is it? Did Marshall’s Office interview Rondini family members and/or their attorneys before issuing his report? Was Steve Marshall the beneficiary of campaign contributions from Political Action Committees that received donations from family members of the rape “suspect” in Megan Rondini’s case? Why did Abernathy wait five months before making a press statement about a court ordered dismissal that occurred in January? Why did Abernathy failed to refute the specific facts that were reported by BuzzFeed News and this journalist in 2017 regarding his Sheriff's Department’s mishandling of the Megan Rondini rape investigation?
Based upon Ron Abernathy’s self-promotional statement and Steve Marshall’s incompetence as Attorney General, it will be quite some time before the #MeToo Movement takes hold in Alabama. One thing is for sure -- a rich and powerful rapist like Bill Cosby would not have been prosecuted by Sheriff Ron Abernathy and Attorney General Steve Marshall for sexual assault crimes committed in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. That's not their thing.
Meanwhile, Alabama voters and Justice for Megan Rondini supporters have a chance during the Republican Primary elections on June 5, 2018 to retire Steve Marshall as Attorney General and usher in a tough, seasoned prosecutor with the election of Alice Martin.
PHOTO: Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy and his wife Leslie at an Alabama Crimson Tide football game.
PHOTO: Governor Bentley appoints Steve Marshall as Attorney General in February 2017. This was one of the happiest days of Marshall's life.
PHOTO: Former Governor Robert Bentley's "happy face" mugshot on April 8, 2017.