Sen. Allen Walks Back on Bill to Rename Cousette Drive for Saban
An Alabama State Senator is facing backlash after introducing a resolution that would rename a Tuscaloosa street after Alabama head football coach Nick Saban – one that was renamed late last year in honor of a fallen Tuscaloosa Police officer.
In an exclusive interview with The Tuscaloosa Thread, Sen. Gerald Allen responded to the controversy and said he is looking to make things right.
Dornell Cousette was a TPD officer who was shot and killed while serving a warrant on a suspect in September of 2019. Cousette was 40 years old. He was a father of two daughters and was engaged to be married.
Cousette chased a suspect into his apartment and exchanged gunfire with the suspect, Luther Bernard Watkins, Jr., and was shot in the face. He was transported to DCH where he died a short time later.
Cousette was also the first Tuscaloosa Police officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty since 1972 when John Charles Thomas was shot and killed.
The Tuscaloosa community showed a tremendous outpouring of support in the wake of the shooting. The city held a candlelight vigil at Government Plaza to honor the fallen officer with nearly 2,000 attendants at his funeral, filling a gymnasium at Shelton State. In the sports world, Alabama football fans wore blue at their next home game to honor his memory.
The Tuscaloosa City Council, one year after the shooting, voted to rename a section of 35th Street in Cousette's honor. The street intersects with Trevor Phillips Drive, named after another TPD officer killed in a car accident while escorting a funeral procession. Both of these roads sit near the TPD headquarters, and officers would drive down them at the end of their shifts.
"This is a perfect way to honor Officer Cousette and the ultimate sacrifice he made to keep the Tuscaloosa community safe," TPD Chief Brent Blankley said late last year about the renaming. "Officer Cousette didn’t get to go home, but I think he’d be happy knowing that he’s on our minds every day that we get to. It’s not something we take for granted.”
The trouble started earlier this month when Allen introduced a bill that would change the name of that street to "Saban Way."
The resolution Allen is proposing already passed on a voice vote last month, with 32 senators signed on as cosponsors. It now sits before the Alabama House of Representatives.
"Be it resolved by the legislature of Alabama, both houses thereof concurring, that the portion of 35th Street, running from Trevor S. Phillips Avenue to Greensboro Avenue... be named 'Saban Way' in honor of Nick Saban and Terry Saban, their accomplishments, and their contributions to the community, both together and individually," the bill reads. The full text can be found here.
The issue most people have with this proposal is that Allen and the state legislature did not notify Mayor Walt Maddox, The University of Alabama or anyone with the City of Tuscaloosa to let them know this was being discussed. And if this passes, the city cannot stop it.
When the Thread reached out to Allen to see if he would reconsider the proposal and if he'd be willing to work with the city to find a more suitable street to honor Saban.
"That wasn't done on purpose or anything like that. When you go to the internet and ride the road and check the signage – I didn't know," Allen said. "I certainly don't want to do anything that would bring any discouraging remarks. [Investigator] Cousette died in the line of duty – he deserves all the honor in the world."
Allen said he is working now to rewrite his proposal and preserve Cousette's street name. A spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa Police Department said Allen would meet with Blankley Friday afternoon to discuss the controversy and find a better way to honor Saban.
"This morning, I along with my entire department was concerned to learn of Senator Gerald Allen’s bill that would have stripped away the naming of Investigator Cousette Dr.," Blankley said in a statement. "Each day our officers put their lives on the line and there are those rare occasions when one of our men and women do not come home. It’s more than a name to us, it is honoring a fallen hero. Our Department’s hope is that Senator Allen will withdraw or amend his bill so that we can continue to honor the heroic work of investigator Cousette.”
UPDATE -- 3:22 p.m.
Senator Allen met with TPD Chief Blankley earlier this afternoon. He apologized for sponsoring the bill, and said he is withdrawing his recommendation.
"I fully supported the effort to rename the street in honor of Officer Cousette. Our police and veterans are heros and their sacrifices should never be forgotten," Allen said in a Facebook post. "Again, I am making sure that the mistake is quickly corrected. To my knowledge, no sign or marker honoring Officer Cousette was or will be removed."