A Pastor Charged With Murder He Did Not Commit: Alabama Targets Reverend Glasgow In Political Prosecution
A formerly incarcerated community organizer in Alabama may be executed or imprisoned for life for a murder he’s not accused of committing.
Reverend Kenneth Glasgow is the founder of The Ordinary People Society, a faith-based organization that “works with the most disenfranchised members,” which others tend to exclude.
According to police, a passenger in a car Glasgow was driving exited the vehicle after it was involved in an accident and shot another driver to death.
He was charged under a “complicity law” in Alabama, and prosecutors are trying to convince a grand jury to indict him for violent acts committed by another person. He said he did not anticipate, had no control over, and didn’t even see the acts take place.
Glasgow, who is Reverend Al Sharpton’s half-brother, is known and celebrated for the ministry he established after leaving prison in 2001 and for his activism on behalf of people impacted by incarceration.
While he fights his own case, Glasgow is calling for the complicity law to be changed. Under the law, “A person who, whether present or absent, aids, abets, induces, procures or causes the commission of an act which if done directly by him, would be a felony or a misdemeanor under a provision of this chapter, is guilty of the same felony or misdemeanor.”
“The complicity law could [be used against] anybody,” he said in an interview with Shadowproof. “Any preacher or anybody that has a prison history, anybody that deals with any kind of social work or juveniles—anybody, with this complicity law. That law is making you responsible for someone else’s actions.”
In addition to providing meals, running transitional homes, serving as an outside spokesperson for incarcerated activists, like the Free Alabama Movement, and deescalating violence in his community, Glasgow is also well known nationally for his organizing for voting rights and against police brutality.
The New York Times described Dothan in 2016 as a place that “can feel like it is caught in a southern time warp, immune to change, and defined by racial division.” One in three Dothan residents is Black, but the town has never had a Black mayor, police chief, circuit judge, or school superintendent.
The newspaper went on to note, “Meetings of the city commission are held in a room adorned with 28 portraits of city leaders, all of them white men. An old photograph shows police officers, including the current chief, posing beside a Confederate flag.”
In this environment, Glasgow’s activism and his association with marginalized communities has placed a target on his back, which has grown over the years and drawn the ire of prosecutors and law enforcement officials whose power he regularly challenges.
He recently enraged the right-wing when he threw his support behind Doug Jones’ senate campaign, helping to register tens of thousands of currently and formerly incarcerated voters in Alabama ahead of the first election of a Democrat to statewide office in 25 years.
But it is not only the political establishment that is upset by his activism. Racist whites in Alabama have threatened his life for years, he shared, and those threats escalated severely after news broke about the incident in late March.
‘Ducking To Save My Life’
Rev. Glasgow was in a poor Dothan neighborhood called “The Bottom,” where much of his community work takes place, with a friend known as Little John on Sunday, March 25. It is a neighborhood where, according to Glasgow, if there is “a domestic violence situation, anything going on, people will call me before people will call the police to try and calm the situation down.”
As recounted by Kirsten West Savali in The Root, “Glasgow was driving two people to a voting rights training in Georgia, one of whom he was then going to take to rehab for treatment.” Glasgow said the only reason he was in Dothan was to give them a ride.
“I was just supposed to pick him up, head back to Georgia for the training, and take him to rehab there. That’s the only reason I was even in Dothan,” he added.
A young man Glasgow describes as an acquaintance, Jamie Townes, approached Glasgow and said his car (a Monte Carlo) was missing. Glasgow told Townes he thought he had seen it nearby and offered to drive him around to look for it.
Glasgow borrowed a friend’s new car that day. Townes, Little John, another woman named Choyce Bush, and Glasgow took the car to find Townes’ Monte Carlo. Glasgow was driving.
According to the New York Times, the missing Monte Carlo had “gone on a wild ride, careening through church grounds, fields and ditches, knocking over a street sign and ramming into a tree in someone’s front yard.”
“Finally, with its hood popped open, blocking the driver’s view, it plowed into the front of [the car Glasgow was driving] on the driver’s side.” As Glasgow told the Times, “we didn’t find the car, the car found us.”
After the accident, police claimed Townes—who was sitting behind Glasgow—exited the vehicle and shot the driver of the Monte Carlo to death.
That driver was Breunia Jennings, who the Times describes as “a young woman with a long history of mental illness, who in the preceding hours had cut her hair short, fled from a motel barefoot and barely dressed, donned men’s clothing, and apparently found Mr. Townes’s car with the motor running.” Jennings was 23 years-old and reportedly struggled for years to remain on medication for bipolar schizophrenia.
Glasgow, Townes, and Bush said after Jennings hit them from the side, another car rammed them from behind and pushed their car down the street. Glasgow suspects (as do police) that Jennings was driving erratically because someone was chasing her. The back of the car Glasgow was driving sustained damage. (This third vehicle was never found.)
“I didn’t see the boy get out the car,” Glasgow said. “We got hit in the back and that car didn’t just hit us and take off, the car in the back hit us and pushed us down the road at least for some 50-75 feet. So evidently there was some kind of aggression going on between him and the other car, the other vehicle.”
“I was ducking the whole time. Then, when I heard the shots, I’m trying to get under the steering wheel. You understand? So I don’t know what happened with the shooting, I don’t know who, I don’t know whether it was the boy who shot. I didn’t even see the boy get out the car because he was sitting behind me.”
“So I’m driving, and you got a car hitting me in the front driver side fender, and I’m trying to drive and tell everybody to put their heads down because I got another car that’s pushing me in the back, I’m concentrating on trying to handle the car and keep everybody safe,” Glasgow recalled. “I don’t know if this boy got out the car or not, but even if he did, I don’t know what happened after he got out of that car.”
“I was ducking to save my life.”
The Police Arrive
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, “everybody was saying ‘let’s go, let’s go’ and I told all of them in the car, no, we’re not going nowhere.” Unaware of what had just transpired, his primary concern was his friend’s new car. “Y’all just hit this car I’m driving, this is a brand new car, and somebody gotta fix this!” Glasgow yelled
“We all got out the car and I told everybody no, just stay here. The police was actually coming right down the street, so I said, there’s the police. Don’t nobody go nowhere. Just stay here.”
He said he pulled over and parked the car. Everyone got out. “We was out there every bit of 30-40 minutes, just standing there while [the police] was doing whatever they was doing.”
From his vantage point, it seemed like Jennings was alive. “I thought she was talking to the officer and to the guy who supposedly shot her, because they was over there at the driver’s door talking to her and the person in the car was moving.”
“There’s no way we knew she was dead cause she was still moving, or he was still moving, so we thought,” Glasgow stated.
In a press conference after the incident, Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish said the department believed Townes knew Jennings stole the car and went to Glasgow to help him hunt her down. Local news reports indicate Dothan police alleged Townes and Glasgow were following her while she was driving.
But the car Jennings was driving hit Glasgow’s car on the driver’s side, taking them by surprise.
Additionally, Jennings’ mother told reporters that to her knowledge, Townes and Jennings did not know each other. Glasgow said he’d never seen her in his life and told the Times they didn’t think the car was stolen but maybe was taken by a friend. This would seem to contradict the police narrative that Townes and Glasgow knew Jennings stole the car, and they were following her.
“I never even knew the young lady, never seen her a day in my life, don’t know the mother, I don’t know where all these rumors and stuff [are] coming from because I didn’t even, we didn’t even know it was a young lady.” (Initially, they thought the driver was a man because of her short hair.)
“They got rumors that me and [Townes] did all this, supposed to have been selling drugs together, which is far from the truth,” Glasgow claimed. “I know the young man from the street just like I know anybody else. Dothan is a small town where everybody know everybody, and of course throughout this country everybody know me. So come on, I was just doing what I do and what I’m called to do, and what I would do for anybody.”
Some have questioned Glasgow’s innocence by asking why he didn’t call the police after the accident and shooting. “Why should I call 911 when the police was already there?” he asked. “The police was already there!”
Others have cast suspicions on his intentions by claiming he thought to commit insurance fraud by telling police the car’s owner was driving at the time of the accident.
“They said that I called her and told her to say she was driving. That’s a lie,” Glasgow declared.
“I’m not even thinking about no doggone insurance right then. I’m thinking this guy, this dude, stole this boy’s car, and hit this woman’s brand new car. I’m trying to keep everybody from getting killed, I’m scared to death myself, and now the police arrive everybody ready to go, telling us to go, and I’m not going nowhere til y’all fix this woman’s car!”
“They said I called [her] up ten times. No, actually she called me trying to figure out where we was at because she’s not from Dothan,” Glasgow contended.
“What Is It He Did, Other Than Pick Him Up And Give Him A Ride, Really?”
Glasgow said it’s strange that he is being singled out for complicity in what took place given that police let two of the four people in his car go and only locked him up. “If you’re looking at a complicity law, then all of us, according to the way it looks, everybody should have gotten locked up according to the way that law reads,” he said.
“They actually let the boy go. [There] wasn’t nobody held or detained or nothing like that. We was out there for 30-40 minutes and could have left at any given time. And the boy actually did walk off.”
Throughout this whole time, Glasgow did not expect he would be implicated in a murder. He thought he had been in a terrible car accident and shooting. He wasn’t even arrested at the scene as they stood around waiting for police to finish surveying the damage. Eventually, they were asked to go to the station for questioning.
“We were like aw, man, we gotta go down for questioning?,” Glasgow remembered. “And then they told all of us to come along. But wasn’t nobody detained before then. And that was about 30-40 minutes.”
“I never realized [they were going to implicate me]. They had us down [at the station] for about 14 hours. I was down there about 5 hours before they even talked to me.”
“They didn’t even give me a chance to lie. It ain’t the fact that I lied about the history or nothing like that. They didn’t even give me a chance to lie. They said we know you was driving, we already talked to the owner of the car, we know she wasn’t there, so don’t lie. And I was like okay, you right, you right, you right,” according to Glasgow.
District Attorney Patrick Burrus Jones, III, who chose to charge Glasgow under the complicity law, is a Republican and career prosecutor elected to the Houston County office in 2016. Glasgow and his mother used to do prayer circles with Jones.
“We know him,” Glasgow said. “Me and him was with each other getting people in my halfway houses and getting people lighter sentences and alternative sentences before, so we know of each other. I haven’t been able to talk to him since the case because of the case.”
Glasgow was allowed to post bond, which is unusual in capital murder cases.
In his preliminary hearing, Judge Benjamin Lewis asked attorneys, “What is it he did, other than pick him up and give him a ride, really?”
“[T]here’s no evidence [Glasgow] even had any knowledge [Townes] had a gun…[and] there’s still no crime or any attempted crime being committed …if he’s just assisting, other than trying to locate the man’s vehicle…I don’t see any evidence…[of]…any intent to commit some type of felony offense.”
Former Prosecutor Consistently Opposed Glasgow
Before Patrick Burrus Jones III was elected district attorney, a man named Doug Valeska held the office for thirty years. Glasgow claims for five years Valeska would ask every jury pool during selection, “Do you know Kenny Glasgow? Are you affiliated with Kenny Glasgow? Do you go to his church? Do you know his mother?” He said they would “strike off the jury if they were affiliated with me or knew me in any kind of way.”
Valeska aggressively pursued death penalty cases and was a vocal critic of prison reform, making him a natural opponent.
The New York Times noted in the 1990s multiple convictions were overturned because Valeska illegally struck Black jurors from the pool.
As the Equal Justice Initiative showed, none of Valeska’s capital cases had more than one Black juror between 2006 to 2010. Houston and Henry Counties, which he represents, are 27 percent Black. Meanwhile, “Houston County ranks in the top 10 counties nationwide for death row prisoners per capita.”
Valeska was also involved in a “dismissal-for-sale scheme, available only to those with money” and political connections. He used diversion programs to generate over a million dollars for his office over a five year period.
Glasgow said former Sheriff Andy Hughes “told me I have to choose to be an advocate or a preacher, and then stopped me from coming into the [Houston County] jail preaching and all of that.”
In 2012, Glasgow advocated for the family of O’Patrick Humphrey, a mentally ill young man that was shot and killed by police in Headland, Alabama. He did the same for police shooting victim Chris Thomas’s family in Dothan that year (Glasgow pointed out the officer in that case, Darren Moody, is still on the force).
“I’ve constantly been after [Moody] ever since it happened four or five years ago,” Glasgow declared.
He fought for Cameron Massey, who was killed by police in 2013, and for Michael Moore in Mobile in 2016. He said that case rankled his local opponents to the point that they were there was public questioning as to whether Glasgow was lying about being Sharpton’s half brother. “I threatened to shut down the interstate down there so that pissed a lot of people off.”
“So, you know, there’s reasons now. I’m not a very likable guy to the establishment and [authorities] because I challenged them on their erroneous and draconian laws,” Glasgow added. “Such as this same law that they have me charged with.”
“My Life Is Being Threatened Every Day”
Glasgow said he was at a Chevron station shortly after he was released on bond when a white man pulled a gun on him. He called the police, who Glasgow said arrived and ran to the side of the white man. “I’m like, wait a minute, I’m the one calling the police. He pulled the gun on me!”
The gas station clerk, who had been watching what was happening outside, came out and told the police it wasn’t Glasgow who was threatening, but the white man.
“One of the things that people don’t know is how my life is being threatened every day,” Glasgow said. “And that’s way before this happened, my life was already being threatened. But now it has completely enhanced since this charge. It’s not by the [Jennings] family or anything like that, it’s by racist white people who call me and threaten me and wanna kill me.”
After the incident at the Chevron station, Glasgow said he texted the police chief and district attorney and told them they need to “do something about these double standards.”
While he’s received death threats for years, Glasgow said he noticed the first real escalation in threats when Alabama redefined the “moral turpitude” provision in the state’s constitution. For years, Alabama counties used a vague standard of moral turpitude to deny the right to vote to people with convictions. The law previously prevented roughly 15 percent of Black Alabamans from voting who would otherwise be eligible.
Glasgow took the state to court over the provision and won. Last year, the state enacted reform that specifies which major felonies “of moral turpitude” can trigger automatic disenfranchisement, opening the door for hundreds of thousands of Alabamans to regain their voting rights.
“That’s when it started escalating,” Glasgow said. “Right before the Doug Jones election [in December 2017], it escalated with the death threats. And then when we won.”
“The Ulysses Wilkerson ordeal [in early 2018], when the police beat him up in Troy, Alabama, and I told them I was gonna shut down the highway, it really got crazy,” he maintained. “I was getting death threats like four or five times day. Like, nigger if you close this highway we’re going to kill you. We’re gonna run you over.'”
“I got the same thing over in Mobile, Alabama, with the Michael Moore case [in June 2016], when I told them I was gonna shut down that interstate, I got the same threats. But it was more enhanced with the Ulysses Wilkerson case.”
“Everybody on staff and everybody that knows me would tell you, the police was out here asking people, ‘Tell me stuff about Glasgow.’ Everybody they pick up and all that, ‘Is he doing drugs? Sign an affidavit and we’ll dismiss all your charges,’ and all that kind of stuff. That’s what I have been hearing from different folks.”
A Moment Of Silence Every Day
Now at home awaiting a grand jury to decide his fate, Rev. Glasgow holds a moment of silence every day at 11:00 am for Breunia Jennings on his radio show.
“Every day at 11:00, I give a moment of silence for the young woman Breunia Jennings, who died and condolences to her family. Because that’s what I’ve been asking everybody to do, and that’s what I do.”
For now, Glasgow is preparing for his defense, raising money to cover legal fees and spreading the word about his case. He established GlasgowDefenseCommittee.org, which will also serve as an information hub for challenging complicity laws, like the one with which he’s been charged.
“This could happen to anybody,” Glasgow reiterated. “You could give anybody a ride, take your friend, your cousin, your mama, your uncle to a store and they do something and, according to this law, they say you’re responsible.”
“I think that once a person exit your vehicle that you’re driving that you’re no longer responsible for that person because they are outside of your presence. How could you be responsible for someone who’s not even in your presence? Until we change these laws, we gotta be very, very careful because it’s a broad law that can be interpreted or used in any kind of discretion to come after anybody.”
“This is the main thing I want to say,” Glasgow concluded. “I’m totally against violence. I’m especially against gun violence. For something like this to happen to me, as much as I have fought and worked and got up—one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock in the morning or whatever time people call me to prevent this kind of violence and stuff from happening—[it] is very, very hurtful to me.”