Testimony concludes as fired Anniston officer fights to get job back

Testimony concludes as fired Anniston officer fights to get job back
(Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC)
(Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC)

ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - It's now up to the Anniston civil service board to determine whether a police lieutenant should have been fired over his involvement in a controversial neo-Confederate group.

An often emotional and combative Josh Doggrell underwent more than two hours of cross-examination Thursday afternoon by Anniston city attorney Bruce Downey. Doggrell was repeatedly grilled about his membership in the League of the South, his association with founder Michael Hill, Facebook posts and past conversations.

Doggrell was fired in July by city manager Brian Johnson, who alleged the League of the South is a hate group. Doggrell denied that in testimony, often defending the group and saying it has "good people in it," while also distancing himself from controversial racist comments made by founder Michael Hill.

Doggrell also testified he is no longer a member of the group, since he let his yearly dues lapse in early August.

At times the testimony became heated and Doggrell often accused Downey of taking some of his past remarks out of context. At one point, the board's attorney, Trudy Phillips, admonished Doggrell to stick to answering questions and not making further comments.

Doggrell incredulity that his longtime membership of the group, his "southernist" views and his 2013 speech to the group, suddenly became an issue when a Southern Poverty Law Center blog addressed it earlier this year.

"These are the same views I had when I went to work for the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office," Doggrell told the three board members, "The same views when I was hired in the Anniston Police Department and discussed it with them in 2006, the same views I had when I was internally investigated by the Anniston Police Department in 2009, the same views I had when this matter was brought to the Anniston City Council in 2011 and 2012.

"Those views have not changed, and it's been O.K. for 18 years of my career," said Doggrell.

"It would have been wonderful to talk to Brian Johnson, this man that fired me, sat down face to face with him, and had a conversation," Doggrell said, pointing at Johnson at the time. "And I asked for that, and he didn't grant me that. He was too busy trying to rush in here and get to his press conference."

Doggrell discussed his neo-Confederate political views while explaining that he wasn't a racist. At one point he said he felt black people and white people generally got along all throughout American history but that government intervention to force desegregation worsened race relations.

Downey asked Doggrell about his speech, including his "disclaimer" that he wasn't representing the Anniston Police Department. Doggrell admitted he mentioned a 2009 internal affairs investigation but only mentioned its outcome and not the internal workings of it.

Under questioning from his own attorney and board members, Doggrell admitted he wouldn't pledge allegiance to the American flag. He said it's because he felt the pledge would elevate the flag and country above his allegiance to Jesus Christ as a Christian. Doggrell also said the pledge was written in the late 19th century during Reconstruction and an era involving "loyalty oaths" requested of former Confederate States of America citizens.

After the hearing, Phillips said the board will make its decision known to both parties within a "day or two," and that the media would have to get it from one of the parties because they personally will not do a news release.

The board could overturn Doggrell's firing and reinstate him, but if they don't, Doggrell's attorney, Kenneth Shinbaum of Montgomery, said an appeal to circuit court is one of several legal options they have available to them.

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