Newly elected as Decatur’s District 4 council member, teenager Hunter Pepper is dealing with a rash of recent traffic citations while facing a state inquiry into his campaign.
When elected Aug. 25 to represent this Southwest Decatur district, the 18-year-old Pepper became the youngest council candidate ever elected in the city and possibly the state. He takes office Nov. 2 as one of four newcomers to the City Council.
Tony Bolan, court programs director for city of Decatur Municipal Court, said Pepper has 13 outstanding traffic citations pending with the court.
After his initial hearing was delayed by the coronavirus shutdown, Pepper appeared for an Aug. 13 hearing.
However, Judge Billy Cook and City Prosecutor Emily Baggett recused themselves “when they realized Mr. Pepper was a candidate for City Council,” Bolan said.
Bolan said a new hearing will be set when a visiting judge and prosecutor can be scheduled, but Bolan said the court is three or four months behind and he doesn’t know when a new hearing will be set.
Pepper’s first outstanding case comes from a stop in October 2017 that went before the court in 2018. He pleaded guilty and agreed to payments on a citation for not having insurance. He only owes $30 in that case while a speeding ticket and other violations were dismissed as part of the agreement, Bolan said.
Bolan said the other 12 pending citations were from seven separate stops by Decatur police from October 2019 into early 2020.
The dozen alleged violations were generally a driver's license issue, failure to register his vehicle, an issue with his vehicle’s lights, no proof of insurance and multiple speeding violations, Bolan said.
Pepper said he is working to clear up some of the citations, including paying off the initial penalty. He said he expects the insurance violation will be cleared when he shows proof of insurance.
“I do feel like I’ve been targeted by police,” Pepper said last week.
In 2019, court records show, Pepper paid the fines for five citations issued by State Troopers on three different stops:
• On Jan. 1, 2019, he received citations from a stop on Old Moulton Road in Morgan County for failure/refusal to display insurance on a 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe and driving 26 mph over the speed limit.
• On July 8, 2019, in rural Greene County, he got tickets for failure to register a 2017 Chevrolet Silverado that was purchased March 19 and speeding 26 mph over the speed limit.
• On Oct. 26, 2019, at Alabama 67 and Alabama 24, he got a citation for failure to register his vehicle, a 2017 Silverado.
On Thursday, Grace Newcombe, spokeswoman for the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, said a formal complaint about Pepper's campaign has been filed with her department and is under investigation.
Newcombe said her department will not release the complaint or make a comment on the complaint while it is under investigation.
Incumbent Charles Kirby, who lost to Pepper in last month's election, said Tuesday he filed a complaint the previous week and then amended it. Because he had filed the complaint, Kirby recused himself at Tuesday’s called council meeting held to canvass the vote and make the election official.
Initially, Kirby’s complaint accused Pepper of not reporting his campaign expenses, and Pepper said last week he had "done all the paperwork I need to do at the county."
Pepper disclosed no cash or in-kind contributions or expenditures in his filings with the Morgan County Probate Court, which is allowable under state law if he received or spent less than $1,000 in his campaign.
In multiple interviews with The Daily, Pepper said he didn’t take any contributions. Twice he said he didn’t remember how much he spent, although he did buy campaign signs.
State law requires a candidate to report personal spending on a campaign if total receipts or spending reach the $1,000 threshold.
Pepper said he thought he had been cleared on Kirby’s initial complaint, but Kirby on Tuesday said he amended the complaint after talking to Secretary of State John Merrill on Sunday night.
Kirby would not say what the amendment to his complaint said, and he declined to provide a copy of either the original or amended complaint.
Pepper on Tuesday declined to comment on Kirby’s complaint.
Pepper in August said he didn’t buy a business license for his auto-detailing business in Decatur and he didn’t know he needed a business license to operate in Morgan County so he shut down his business.