Judge dismisses Greenetrack from bingo suit; grants mediation request for remaining parties

In a Procedural Hearing, held Thursday, October 20, 2022 in Greene County Circuit Court with retired Circuit Judge Arthur Hanes presiding, Greenetrack, Inc. was dismissed as a defendant in a suit filed by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in 2017, seeking an injunction blocking the use of electronic bingo machines in Greene County, declaring that they are illegal gambling and a public nuisance.
The suit in Greene County Circuit Court also included the Center for Rural Family Development, Inc. d/b/a Green Charity, Dream Inc. d/b/a Frontier Bingo, Tenntom Community Development d/b/a River’s Edge, Tommy Summerville Police Support League, Inc. d/b/a Palace Bingo, Jonathan Benison, in his official capacity as sheriff of Greene County, Next Level Leaders, Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program, Woman to Woman, E-911, and Greene County Volunteer Fire Association.
The Circuit Court Judge previously assigned to hear the case dismissed the lawsuit and the Attorney General appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Attorney General’s office has already filed similar Preliminary Injunctions against bingo gaming in Macon and Lowndes Counties.
Earlier this year on May 20, 2022, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling and remanded the case back to the Circuit Court for a determination of whether the operation of electronic bingo constitutes a public nuisance which should be permanently enjoined or prevented. The Court also appointed another Judge to preside over the case.
Greenetrack, Inc. sought dismissal from the suit, arguing that its facility no longer operates bingo in Greene County as of August 28, 2022. Assistant Attorney General John Kachelman stated that the order for Preliminary Injunction included all gaming machines, however, it was clarified by Greenetrack’s legal representative, Attorney Gail Gratton Green, that the suit specifically identified the gaming as bingo machines.
According to Attorney Gratton Green, the case against Greenetrack should be dismissed because all of the electronic bingo machines targeted by the lawsuit have been removed from its business establishment; Woman-To-Woman, E-911, and Greene County Volunteer Association, the Charities authorized to operate electronic bingo pursuant to Amendment 743, were no longer operating electronic bingo at Greenetrack; and Greenetrack did not intend to allow the operation of electronic Bingo at its premises unless there was new legislation authorizing the activity.
On Sunday, October 23, 2022, Judge Hanes issued the following orders dismissing Greenetrack from the lawsuit:
“Upon verified motion and arguments Greenetrack, Inc, and the charities alleged to be operating entities in connection with it including Woman to Woman., E-911, and Greene County Volunteer Fire Assn. are hereby dismissed from this action without prejudice. Pursuant to mandate, all other motions to dismiss are overruled.”
As requested by legal representative for Epic Tech, Judge Hanes also granted a motion for Remediation between all parties remaining in the suit. The Judge’s order is stated below.
“Although similarities exist between this case and cases in other counties, there are arguable differences between them and this case in several respects, including the statutory allowance of bingo in Greene County and the powers and duties of the Sheriff thereunder. The conflict between claimed hyper-technical application of law on one extreme and practical, if not humanitarian, needs and desires of the citizens of Greene County on the other make this case one for honest, good faith, effort on both sides to explore compromise, assessing the risks of continued litigation and the possible undesirable effects which may ensue, even from success in such litigation. Upon further consideration of the arguments and statements made in the hearing October 20 this order is made as to all parties remaining, not just the movant for mediation. It is therefore ORDERED: 1. The parties shall mediate this case as soon as practicable. It is suggested that good faith informal premediation discussions to explore possible avenues of compromise be engaged in prior to said mediation. To that end Mr Dillard is designated as representative of the defendants and Mr Kachelman as representative of the Attorney General. 2. The Hon. Charles Malone of Tuscaloosa is appointed as mediator.”
Attorney William Somerville representing River’s Edge offered the following statement: “The Court’s order issued Sunday acknowledges the “practical” if not humanitarian, needs and desires of the citizens of Greene County” to have charitable bingo in Greene County and requiring the parties to mediate the case with the Honorable Charles Malone as soon as practicable. We are pleased with the Court’s order. We will continue to defend the interests of the people of Greene County in this lawsuit in which the State seeks to shut down all charitable bingo in Greene County – the people who voted for Constitutional Amendment 743, which allows the charitable bingo that the State is attempting to permanently prohibit, and the people and organizations who benefit from the charitable contributions received as a result of the operation of charitable bingo in the County, organizations like the Greene County Hospital and the Greene County Board of Education and people like the hospital’s patients and the students of Greene County.
At the October 20 hearing Judge Hanes indicated that the trial for the remaining Greene County bingo entities is expected to be scheduled for January 2023.

Greene County officials hold inaugural ceremonies

Greene County’s newly elected Circuit Clerk, Probate Judge and re-elected Sheriff were installed into office last week in the Williams M. Branch Courthouse in Eutaw.
Circuit Clerk Veronica Morton Jones was installed Saturday, January 13, 2019 at 12 noon. On hand to welcome her to the position and provide encouraging words were four former Greene County Circuit Clerks who preceded her in office: Mary Snoddy, Johnny M. Knott, Etta Edwards and Mattie Atkins.
The Mistress of Ceremony for Jones’ installation was Drenda Morton. Jones’ daughter Victoria, brought greetings. Prayer and inspirational words were led by Alphonzo Morton, Jr. and Rev. Jerome McIntosh, respectively.
Greene County District Judge, Lillie Jones Osborne administered the Oath of Office. Circuit Clerk Jones introduced her family and expressed deepest appreciation for all who assisted and supported her in this journey. Elected officials present were also recognized. Following the program, dinner was served at St. Paul United Methodist Church.
Greene County Sheriff, Jonathan Benison, was installed for his third term in office on Sunday, January 13, 2019. Carrie Jones served as Mistress of Ceremony.

Invocation and prayer were led by Rev. Edward King and Rev. John Kennard, respectively. Chief Deputy Jeremy Rancher brought the welcome and musical renditions were provided by Monica Turner.
Commissioner Allen Turner recognized elected officials and Cpl. CO. Blake McMillian introduced the guest speaker retired Trooper Steven Davis. District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne administered the Oath of Office, followed by Sheriff Benison’s inaugural address. Following the program, Rev. Kelvin Cockrell gave the benediction and dinner was served at Ruby’s.
The inaugural ceremony for Probate Judge Rolanda Martin Wedgeworth was held Monday, January 14, 2019 at 5:30 pm. Ms. Marilyn Sanford served as Mistress of Ceremony. Invocation and prayer were led by Rev. John Kennard and Rev. Joe Nathan Webb, respectively. City Judge William “Nick” Underwood administered the Oat of Office. Judge Wedgeworth introduced her family and shared expressions of gratitude for all the support and assistance she has received. Mr. Alonzo Thompson gave the benediction and blessing of the food, which was followed by a reception in the courthouse foyer.

Escapee from Greene County jail captured and returned after 19 years

Sheriff Jonathan Benison, embraces victim’s family member, Peggy Carpenter, at press conference led by Chief Deputy Jeremy Rancher on arrest of fugitive Donovan Johnson. Ollie “Nuke” Carpenter (Victim) and  Donovan Johnson

 
Donovan Johnson who escaped from the Greene County jail in June of 1998 was recaptured in Chicago, Il and brought back to Eutaw, AL on Tuesday May 16, 2017. Johnson was arrested in 1996 and charged with murder and 3 counts of attempted murder and possession of stolen property. At a press conference held at the county jail immediately after Johnson was returned, booked and secured, Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison stated: “This is a great day in Greene County. We can begin to put a close to a case of over 19 years. That means a lot to the family of the victim.” Johnson is charged in the shooting death of Ollie ‘Nuke” Carpenter.
According to Chief Deputy Jeremy Rancher, approximately one week ago, the Greene County Sheriff’s office received an anonymous tip in reference to an individual, Donovan Johnson, who escaped from the Greene County jail (the old facility) two years after his arrest in 1996, while charged with murder, 3 counts of attempted murder, and receiving stolen property 1ST degree.

“Based on the information from this tip, we were able to determine that there was a high probability that this tip was credible,” Rancher stated. Deputy Rancher further explained that during the course of the investigation, the sheriff’s office learned that Donovan Johnson was using an alias name (Philip Thomas) and that he was residing in the Chicago, IL area.
On Friday, May 12 at approximately 3:30 p.m., Donovan Johnson was recaptured in Chicago without incident by members of the United States Marshals – Great Lakes Fugitive Task Force. On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, agents from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Chief Deputy Jeremy Rancher (Greene County Sheriff Department) transported Johnson from Illinois back to Alabama. “This is a prime example of what can be achieved when we all work together as a team. We would like to thank all of the local, state and federal agencies that assisted us with this very important matter,” Rancher said.
Members of the Carpenter family were also present at the press conference on Tuesday. Mrs. Ola Carpenter Ford, sister of Ollie Carpenter, expressed sadness and relief. “ This day re-opens an old wound, but we may be able to feel closure now. My brother, Ollie, was just 29 years old when he was killed. Maybe now he can rest in peace,” she said. Mrs. Peggy Carpenter, sister-in-law of the victim, Ollie Carpenter, and her daughter Katrina Gayles, were also present at the press conference. According to Mrs. Peggy Carpenter, “We waited a very long time for this day. We prayed for this day to come.”
On August 9. 1996, Eric Edwards, Donovan Johnson and Jim Pelt, all of Boligee, AL, were arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of Ollie “Nuke” Carpenter. Carpenter was killed, Friday, June 28 outside of Johnson Store in the Mt. Hebron community. Three men in the car with him Ernest Daniels, Robert Hood, and Raymond Dancy were injured in the shooting. Allegedly Johnson and Edwards approached the vehicle in which Carpenter and three friends were sitting and opened fire with automatic gun shots and hand gun.
In October, 1996, the Greene County Grand Jury returned indictments for murder and attempted murder against Edwards and Johnson. Edwards was also indicted for carrying a concealed weapon, a 9MM pistol. Johnson was also indicted for receiving stolen property, a 1991 Chevrolet Lumina. Both were held in the county jail under bonds of $450,000 each.
Edwards pleaded guilty to the charge in 1997 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Johnson escaped from the Greene County jail in 1998, two years after his arrest.