The controversy engulfing Arthur L. Sumbry Sr. followed him to central Alabama over the weekend, as the longtime Phenix City councilman was pulled over in an unmarked city police car after activating its blue lights. Police in Calera, Ala, filed no charges against Sumbry, who claimed the use of the lights was accidental.
Sumbry, 71, had checked out the Dodge Charger to attend a seminar in Birmingham with fellow council member Michelle E. Walker. A passing motorist noticed the blue lights being turned on and off and alerted state troopers, who relayed the call to officers in Calera.
Police intercepted the vehicle at an overpass on Interstate 65 and followed it briefly before making the stop about 1:45 p.m. Saturday.
“They claim that they had accidentally bumped the lights with the elbow and the lights had come on," Police Chief Sean Lemley said in a telephone interview. "They immediately turned them back off, and we had no reason to hold them or suspect that there was any kind of a problem."
The report made no mention of speed being a factor in the caller's concerns, Lemley said. "We had no way to prove or disprove what was being said one way or the other," he said. "The person that called it in didn’t want to file a complaint, didn’t stop, so we had nothing to go on and we let them go.”
Sumbry and Walker did not immediately return calls seeking comment. The incident happened about a week after Sumbry was arrested and indicted on fresh charges he tampered with the jury pool that was to be selected in his perjury and forgery case. That trial had been scheduled for last week but was postponed in light of the new allegations.
Though no citations or charges were filed Saturday, the traffic stop has drawn attention to the city's practice of allowing council members access to police vehicles.
"I’ve always, as the chief of police, wished that they could get some other cars to check out, but they are City Council members and they approve the budget," said Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith.
Smith said it's cheaper for the city to use its own equipment than to reimburse for mileage. Mayor Sonny Coulter said he spoke with City Manager Wallace Hunter today and got his assurances the practice would be discontinued.
“If a city council member wants to go somewhere, they need to provide their own transportation to get there," said Coulter, who added that, in his many years of public service, he's never checked out a city vehicle to attend a function. "If it was something intentional on Mr. Sumbry’s part, then he should be ashamed of himself because he knows better than doing something like this.
"I think Arthur would be doing the city a service if he were to resign,” he added.