Pubdate: Sun, 26 Jul 2009
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2009 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Markeisha Ricks


The drugs were found in a fifth-floor office in the Alabama State House.

Former state Rep. Bobby Humphryes, R-Pleasant Grove, was leaving the 
Legislature to become a Jefferson County commissioner and had stopped 
by to clear out a few more things from his office when he found a 
black backpack with a scale, a box of plastic bags and a two-pound 
block of marijuana.

He immediately called House security. After reviewing security camera 
footage, law enforcement officials saw Lorenza Hooks, a maintenance 
worker, carrying the backpack into the office just a few hours before 
Humphryes found it.

That was on Dec. 1, 2006.

Hooks was never charged with a crime in connection to the drugs, and 
he remained a House of Representative employee for nearly two years 
after that incident. In May 2008, he was suspended after being 
arrested as a suspect in a shooting.

Even with a felony arrest hanging over his head, Hooks was promised 
that he would get his job back with back pay if he was not convicted. 
In fact, he might still be a House employee if this December 2006 
drug incident had not resurfaced this year.

Hooks is now in jail on $1.5 million bond for an unrelated charge -- 
illegal trafficking of crack cocaine. But instead of bringing 
closure, his most recent arrest has only raised questions about the 
drugs that were found in the State House nearly three years ago.

Almost Reinstated With Back Pay

On May 15, when state Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, stepped to the 
microphone to tell his fellow House of Representative members that a 
former employee might be out to kill him, some just blew it off as 
another one of Holmes' diatribes.

"I thought it was Alvin being, well Alvin," said state Rep. Barry 
Mask, R-Wetumpka.

Known for his fiery rhetoric and scorching filibusters, it would have 
been easy to dismiss Holmes that day, except that a week before at 
least nine other members of the House had received the same news as 
Holmes and knew at least partially what he was talking about.

At a May 7 meeting of the House Legislative Council -- a committee 
that deals with personnel matters in the House -- the issue of 
whether to reinstate Hooks with back pay was taken up.

Hooks had been arrested and charged with second-degree assault, along 
with another man, for shooting a 21-year-old man in a parking lot at 
4900 Plaza Drive. The injured man was wounded in the left thigh and 
foot. Hooks was identified by the victim as one of the shooters. But 
in March, Hooks was notified that his case had been "no billed" by 
the grand jury, and that there were no charges pending against him 
because someone else was ultimately charged and convicted of the 
crime. Despite those charges being dropped, the Legislative Council 
ultimately decided to fire him.

Hooks' termination was an abrupt reversal for the House Legislative 
Council. On the day of the meeting, Holmes, who is a member of the 
council, passed out pictures taken from the Dec. 1, 2006, House 
security camera footage of Hooks walking into the office with the 
pack, and of photos of the drugs and drug paraphernalia later found 
in the pack. A report from House Security Chief Derek Hamilton on 
what happened that day was also given to the council.

State Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, who is also a member of the 
council, said he was stunned when he saw the photos.

"It's scary to think that if Rep. Holmes hadn't come up with that 
information we might have reinstated Hooks, which is what had been 
promised," Ford said.

Hooks was told on several occasions that if he was not found guilty 
of the charges that he would be reinstated with back pay, according 
to separate letters from former Human Resources Manager Lynda Thacker 
and Clerk of the House Greg Pappas.

As late as April 9, the Legislative Council was still leaning toward 
reinstating Hooks with back pay, according to a letter from Rep. 
Demetrius Newton, council chairman, to new House Human Resources 
Manager Lynn Parker.

Newton said he could only confirm the information that was in the 
minutes of the May 7 meeting and declined to be interviewed by the 
Montgomery Advertiser. The minutes don't say much. The council went 
into executive session to discuss "the general reputation and 
character of an employee."

Holmes made the motion not to reinstate Hooks and not to grant him 
back pay, Speaker of the House Seth Hammett provided the second and 
the council voted unanimously in favor of the Holmes motion.

Hammett also declined to be interviewed about the circumstances 
surrounding Hooks' termination, but said through his chief of staff 
Jeff Woodard that "He voted not to re-employ (Hooks), and he based 
that vote on information presented during the council meeting."

A Cover-Up?

The House Legislative Council did not know until that meeting that 
drugs were found on the fifth floor of the State House back in 2006 
and that an employee the council suspended was questioned about those drugs.

Holmes believes that someone covered it up.

"I think this was kept from the council because (those involved) knew 
that if the council had found out, we would likely have fired him," 
Holmes said. "They didn't want him fired, and in my opinion, he was 
providing drugs to some high level people in the House of Representatives."

An effort was made to keep the information about the drugs under 
wraps. A check of Hooks' personnel file by the Advertiser turned up 
no evidence concerning drugs being discovered or anything about what 
occurred on Dec. 1, 2006.

The pictures that were distributed to the council on May 7 and the 
report from House Security Chief Derek Hamilton were not in the file. 
The only reference to that day is the May 22 letter from Newton 
informing Hooks of the council's decision to terminate him.

"On May 7, 2009 the House Legislative Council voted not to reinstate 
you as an employee of the House of Representatives," Newton wrote. 
"All information was reviewed related to the matter of your 
suspension along with an incident that occurred in December 2006, 
(about) which we were recently informed."

Documents obtained by the Advertiser show that when the marijuana was 
discovered that day, House security, administrative assistant to the 
clerk Don Ladner and Clerk of the House Greg Pappas were all notified.

A detective with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation was also brought 
in and the black backpack and its contents were turned over to the 
detective. After reviewing security camera footage, the detective 
questioned Hooks, who admitted that the backpack was his, but said 
the drugs and drug paraphernalia were not.

According to the documents, the Alabama Department of Forensic 
Science confirmed on Dec. 21, 2006, that the bag contained more than 
two pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of between 
$1,800 and $2,000.

Cpl. Steve Jarrett, a spokesman with the Montgomery Trooper Post, 
said he could not confirm the nature of the ABI's investigation that 
began on Dec. 1, 2006, but said there was an investigation, and it 
was determined that there was not enough evidence to prosecute. The 
drugs have since been destroyed.

Pappas said the idea that he was trying to cover up the 2006 incident 
was ludicrous.

"I wouldn't even think about covering anything up," Pappas said. "Why would I?"

Pappas said he never notified Hammett or the House Legislative 
Council because Hooks was not charged with a crime.

"I did not want to spread any rumors about anyone," he said. "Besides 
that, I'm not going to run to the legislative council or the 
speaker's office every time there is a personnel matter to deal with. 
That's not their job. That's my job."

How Hooks Got the Job

Pappas said Hooks was an eager worker, performed all of his duties 
and was rarely absent.

"He was a very good employee," he said.

According to an employment application, Hooks worked as a dishwasher 
and maintenance person at Country's Barbecue on Zelda Road for two 
months before he graduated from high school in 1991. He left that job 
for medical reasons, according to the application.

There is no employment history listed for the 11 years between the 
time he left that job and the date when he started working for the 
House of Representatives in October 2002.

Pappas said Hooks wouldn't have had to have much work experience for 
the job, which is essentially a janitorial position.

The House doesn't require background checks as part of its hiring 
procedures, but Pappas said he was aware that Hooks had spent time in 
federal prison.

"I figured he had paid his debt to society and needed a second 
chance," he said. "That's the problem -- we throw these people out on 
the street and nobody wants to give them a second chance."

Hooks received a mostly average rating for his job performance in an 
August 2003 evaluation. He received above average marks for his 
dependability and responsiveness. Other than the 2003 review, Hooks' 
personnel file contains no other performance evaluations for the six 
years that he was employed at the State House.

While he had at least one minor skirmish with the law while he worked 
for the House of Representatives, it wasn't until his felony arrest 
for alleged involvement with a shooting in May 2008 that Hooks was suspended.

At first he was suspended with pay, but the House Legislative Council 
voted to make the suspension unpaid with the promise that he would 
receive back pay if he was not convicted of the felony charge.

Hooks was allowed to use his leave time to continue on the House 
payroll and to receive health benefits. According to a note in Hooks' 
personnel file, he had 336 sick leave hours and 229 annual leave 
hours. Three unidentified House employees also donated 160 hours of 
leave time to Hooks, which ultimately kept him on the House payroll 
until Dec. 1, 2008.

Hooks' most recent arrest is for trafficking crack cocaine, which 
Montgomery Police Department spokesman Maj. Huey Thornton said is a 
federal offense.

Thornton said Hooks was arrested July 15 after fleeing the 3300 block 
of East Street during the drug arrest of another person by undercover officers.

A person must have more than 28 grams of cocaine to be charged with 
trafficking, according to Thornton. Hooks was in possession of 127 
grams, or about 4.5 ounces, of crack cocaine.

Pappas said he doesn't know if Hooks would be sitting in jail if he 
hadn't lost his job with the House, and he refuses to speculate about it.

"I can't answer that," he said. "He obviously had a side to him that 
I didn't know about."

Case Not Closed

With Hooks' firing, it could have been case closed on the question of 
who brought drugs into the State House, but Holmes isn't ready to let 
the issue go.

He said when the House Legislative Council meets again it should 
further investigate whether other employees were involved with the 
drugs that were found three years ago.

"I'm not going to prejudge anything, but I think that there are some 
key personnel that are employed with the House that need to be called 
before the council and questioned about why they didn't inform the 
council about this," he said. "For me, the key questions are what did 
they know, when did they know it and what did they do about it?"

Other members of the council agree with Holmes on the need for 
further investigation. State Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gads-
den, commended Holmes for his diligence and said he wants a thorough 
accounting of how drugs could be found in the State House without 
legislators ever being told about it.

"If someone has kept it from us, then I think that is necessary 
grounds for termination," he said. "I want to get to the bottom of 
what was going on and if we were kept in the dark we better never be 
kept in the dark again."

State Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, also serves on the committee, and 
he said the House has gone for a while without a human resources 
manager -- something he suspects played a role in the issues that 
have arisen with Hooks. The House has hired a new Human Resources 
Manager, Lynn Parker, who has more than 15 years in the industry. He 
said that alone should go a long way toward avoiding what happened with Hooks.

"Obviously it's a concern that we didn't know this could be taking 
place," he said of the possibility that someone was selling drugs in 
the State House. "But I feel confident that if it was taking place, 
it's not taking place anymore."

Speaker of the House Seth Hammett said, via his chief of staff Jeff 
Woodard, that ultimately the security of the State House is the 
responsibility of the clerk of the House and the secretary of the 
Senate, who have custody and control of the facility by law. Hammett 
said the employees of the House know that if they are discovered 
dealing drugs, they will be fired.

"We don't know for sure that any drugs have ever been sold in the 
State House," he said. "If someone is selling drugs, we are going to 
fire them and cooperate with law enforcement with any investigation 
that may ensue."

But Mask, the Wetumpka representative, isn't as confident that 
existing House hiring practices will curtail future problems.

He said going forward, more stringent hiring practices need to be put 
in place and those practices should include a background check, more 
open House Legislative Council meetings and an investigation of this matter.

"Obviously something broke down," he said. "When you have this type 
of activity going on it certainly doesn't build confidence from the 
people we represent."
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