On April 2, 2020 personnel from the Integrity Cabinets plant located in the City Limits of Ashland, received a phone call from someone purporting to be the father of one of their employees.
The person on the phone stated that the employee in question had been tested for the coronavirus, named COVID-19, at the drive through testing site at the University of Alabama Birmingham and his results had come back positive. The information was gathered and relayed to Human Resources Director Tommy McCain, and Mr. McCain went and found the company CEO David Williams and together went to where the employee was supposed to be working. They pulled him outside and told him he needed to get in touch with someone from home. After several attempts the employee supposedly talked to his mother and he stated to Mr. McCain and Mr. Williams that she told him that he tested positive for COVID-19. After a short conversation he was sent home with instructions to be in communication with them about his illness.
After sending him home, Mr. McCain and Mr. Williams immediately communicated to the Ashland plant employees that there was possibly a positive COVID-19 case from within their plant, and that all employees were being sent home. Mr. Williams and other supervisors then began calling the necessary people to find out what and how they should go about cleaning up. They were advised because of the proximity of the Lineville plant and the possibility of cross contamination, that the Lineville Plant should be shut down, and both plants receive a thorough cleaning. Williams and the other supervisors entered into a contract with a cleaning company that was scheduled to come and clean both plants, as recommended by the CDC and Alabama Department of Public Health. Sometime that afternoon one of the supervisors received information that the employee in question had not went to UAB, because he had been with him the entire weekend. The supervisor notified all others involved, but because of the possibility they went ahead and continued with the cleaning protocol.
On the evening, after speaking with the supervisors it was determined that they may have been lied to about the incident and began to seek counsel with the District Attorney’s office for the 40th Judicial Circuit, and trying to make contact with the employee in question. One of the Clay County Sheriff’s Department employees was familiar with the employee and his family and attempted to make contact, at which time it was discovered that he had not been tested, but the family was taking him to Russell Medical Center that evening to get seen by a doctor.
Management at Integrity Cabinets received this information and began seeking advice on what they should do. Because they were unsure of whether the employee was positive for COVID-19, or not, they continued with the plan to shutdown, clean and ensure the safety of their employees and the plant. That same evening Chief Joseph Stanford contacted Chief Assistant District Attorney Joe Ficquette about the incident, and Chief Stanford then contacted Mr. McCain about coming and doing a report the next day at the police department.
The following morning Mr. McCain and Mr. Williams met Chief Stanford and ADA Ficquette at the Ashland Police Department, and made the initial report with them. After studying the incident and reading the law it was determined that a law had been broken. The employee in question, identified as Austin Freeman of Cragford, had made the initial call to the receptionist, using his own cell phone, from inside the plant. He continued carrying out the falsely reporting of an incident by telling Mr. McCain and Mr. Williams of the positive test result.
On April 16, 2020, Freeman was brought into the Ashland Police Department for questioning, at the end of the 14 day quarantine he was placed under by Russell Medical Center. While here Freeman was arrested and charged with Falsely Reporting an Incident, booked and transported to the Clay County Jail. The actions that were taken on April 2, 2020 caused many people to panic or be filled with fear. We are dealing with a serious situation, and Integrity Cabinets took no chances when it was brought to their attention. Their prompt response and actions are what the CDC and ADPH are asking companies to do. Freeman’s actions should be noted that reckless behavior of creating panic or feeding fear mongering will not be tolerated. As with all arrests, persons who are charged, are still presumed innocent until proven guilty, and as a practice the Ashland Police Department does not plan to comment any further about this pending case.