No crime involved with fire truck

State investigator says allegations of sabotage on Flomaton truck based on personal feelings, dislikes or vendettas

A special agent with the Alabama State Bureau of Investigations has determined no violation of the state's criminal code occurred stemming from allegations made by Jimmy Brantley that a Flomaton Fire Department truck was intentionally damaged.

Agent James Murphy filed his report this week with Escambia County District Attorney Steve Billy stating that “individual(s) may have allowed personal feelings, dislikes or vendettas to play a role in the accusations.”

Billy said the investigation by SBI was a probable cause investigation to determine if a crime had occurred. He said no crime was found and the matter is closed.

“These SBI agents were taken off of their investigations of major crimes to probe into this matter,” Billy said. “I find it ironic that Mr. Brantley complained that, in his opinion, taxpayers' money was being wasted at the Flomaton Fire Department and yet he called for a bogus investigation into an admitted personal vendetta of which he already knew the answer, causing a senseless waste of taxpayers' money.”

The investigation was launched after Brantley appeared before the town council on June 11 alleging that one of Flomaton's firetrucks had been deliberately damaged and felt an investigation needed to be launched. Town Attorney Chuck Johns contacted Billy on behalf of the council and requested an independent investigation to see if a crime had occurred.

In his report, Murphy said he contacted Mayor Dewey Bondurant Jr., on July 13 to obtain background information regarding the issue and Bondurant told him he needed to talk with Brantley.

Murphy interviewed Brantley on July 16 and noted in his report Brantley told him about his personal friendship with the mayor.

Brantley told Murphy that the clutch went out on the 1984 Ford pumper truck and throttle cables had been damaged on the pump apparatus.

“Brantley said that this seemed suspicious to him because of the timeframe of the damage occurring,” Murphy wrote in his report. “Brantley stated the damage occurred around the same time current Fire Chief Steve Stanton was requesting a new truck.”

Brantley told Murphy he purchased the truck more than 30 years ago when he was the fire chief and that he wasn't pleased with the way things were being run at the department currently.

“Brantley went on to discuss money issues and other issues within the department that seemed to Agent Murphy to be a personal issue with the current chief,” the report reads. “Brantley said that he has even confronted Stanton regarding the way money was spent at the department.”

Brantley also told Murphy of a pump test done on the truck months earlier indicting it failed. Brantley told the agent he took issue with the failed test and a second test was conducted at his insistence and it passed. Brantley stated that the copy of the failed test was given to the city clerk.

“During Brantley's interview he admitted that this was more of a personal issue than a criminal matter that the mayor needed to handle,” the report reads.

Flomaton's full-time fireman, Jeremy Lee, told Agent Murphy he was driving the truck on March 21, 2018 when he experienced mechanical problems. Lee said he informed Chief Stanton of the issue that day and comments were made on the radio regarding the clutch and transmission of the vehicle going out.

Lee also told Murphy that throttle cables can inadvertently be damaged by just pulling on them at any time and they can also freeze up.

“Lee stated that the throttle cable issue wasn't brought up until Brantley discovered it at the automotive shop when the clutch was being repaired,” the report reads.

Scott Waller, owner of Brantley's Automotive, told Murphy he towed the truck from the fire department to his shop to conduct the repairs. He said he replaced the clutch inside the transmission and adjusted the throttle cables on the pump.

“Waller stated that the clutch inside the truck was the original one and for those particular parts to be deliberately damaged it would require the transmission having to be removed from the truck,” the report reads. “Waller also agreed that the clutch could be damaged during the operation of the vehicle as Lee had previously stated occurred on the March 21, 2018 fire call.”

Waller also told Murphy the throttle cables only needed to be adjusted to become functional.

“Waller stated that there was no way, in his professional opinion, to say definitively that the issue to the transmission and cables were purposely caused,” the report reads.

He also said, excluding the clutch work that was completed, that repair cost would only have been around $250 for the throttle cables.

Murphy interviewed Stanton on July 16 and Stanton said he had inquired about purchasing a new fire truck previously due to the condition of the truck in question, “but adamantly denied purposely damaging fire department property.” Stanton said he was on the fire call with Lee the day the clutch went out on the truck but had no knowledge of throttle cables that were damaged or inoperable.

Murphy also talked with Jessie Gregson about the pump test he conducted on March 24 that Brantley had an issue with.

“Gregson stated that the truck could have failed the pump test due to any number of factors,” the report reads.

He also told Murphy that he is an impartial third party who has conducted pump tests for Flomaton previously and doesn't benefit more or less from the truck passing or failing a pump test. He told the agent he has been in the fire industry for 40 years and stands by the test he conducted on March 24.

“In conclusion, based on the certified mechanic's opinion, witness testimony from March 21, 2018 and the condition of the 34-year old fire truck, it is Special Agent Murphy's belief that no violation of an Alabama State Criminal Code exists,” the report reads. “However, during the course of this probable cause inquiry, Special Agent Murphy discovered that individual(s) may have allowed personal feelings, dislikes or vendettas to play a role in these accusations.”

“Special Agent Murphy communicated with several unidentified sources that stated this matter was a personal issue between certain individuals in the fire department who had a dislike for the current chief,” the report reads. “During this inquiry it was discovered that the current primary engine for the city also has numerous issues. These issues would seem to require more immediate attention for safe and effective fire protection to the city of Flomaton.”