Revenge Beatdown by Deputies in Madison County, AL
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The following incident just reported on AL.com illustrates the incredible problem which exists with law enforcement and particularly the Sheriff’s Department in Madison County, Alabama. An off-duty officer assaulted a patron of a bar for looking at his woman and also retaliated with a bloody beat-down weeks later. Those charges were of course dropped, but not until his friend was mysteriously murdered. The cover-up was so bad that the Alabama Bureau of Investigation is currently looking into it. This is what happens when there is no integrity with LEOs anymore. This is what happens when young militarized punks are hired to serve and protect us.
Here’s the story, from Blog.AL.com:
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Robert Bryant says he was stomped by deputies while handcuffed at the side of the road in northern Madison County, the pummeling coming weeks after he punched a deputy during a barroom scuffle over a girl.
But if not for the mysterious killing of his wealthy benefactor, Bryant would probably never get to tell his story. Not in public. At least not in the press.
Bryant is a 44-year-old mechanic and a roofer, a self-employed handyman who never finished high school and would likely face difficulty in a courtroom dispute with police.
But the savage injuries to Bryant — his teeth smashed out, his face swollen on all sides – set in motion the curious circumstances surrounding the final weeks of Jason Klonowski.
Klonowski paid for the attorneys and yard signs questioning the “brutality” of Madison County deputies. Klonowski even held a public rally for Bryant just weeks before he was discovered shot through the head outside his home in northwest Madison County.
The killing of Klonowski in November of 2013 and the arrest of Bryant in August of 2012 may turn out to be unrelated.
But the awkward timing — with Madison County throwing out charges against Bryant just a week after Klonowski turned up dead – was enough to cause the Alabama Bureau of Investigation to step in.
“We don’t trust the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to investigate this matter because a number of Madison County deputies – and most probably supervisory personnel – were instrumental in allowing Mr. Bryant’s beating to be covered up,” said Hank Sherrod, the civil attorney for Bryant.
Sherriff Blake Dorning and attorneys for Madison County have declined to comment on Bryant’s claims, saying they anticipate a lawsuit. Sherrod is planning to file one.
Jeff Rich, attorney for Madison County, declined invitations from AL.com for deputies involved in the case to share their stories. “We’re prepared to defend the lawsuit,” said Rich, who represents the sheriff in civil cases.
So here’s the version of events, all central to the final and public actions of a homicide victim, as retold by Bryant and stacked up against public records.
“Are you meowing at my girl?”
Bryant traces his trouble to a fateful night in Hazel Green in the summer of 2012. He and Ross Hoffman said they were shooting eight-ball at a strip mall along U.S. 231/431, not far from the Tennessee line.
Hoffman said he noticed a woman and pointed her out to Bryant. Bryant turned his head, looked her over, turned back and said “yeah.” Bryant recalled: “She was about half dressed.”
There was a pretty good crowd that night. Bryant said he’d had about six or seven Coors Lights. He turned back to his pool shot, when a small man in civilian clothes came up behind him and placed one hand under his armpit and another somewhere on his side.
“He said, ‘Are you meowing at my girl?'” recalled Bryant.
He would later identify this man as Madison County Deputy Justin Watson.
“My reaction is to defend myself because I felt threatened,” said Bryant, retelling his version in a lawyer’s office in Florence on Christmas Eve. “I just hit with a straight left between his hands.’
Bryant said Watson wobbled, and Bryant missed with a follow-up right and stumbled. The two began grappling on the floor, said Hoffman, before patrons broke it up. Bryant said he got out of the bar, called a friend for a ride, and waited for someone to bring a shoe that he’d lost in the tussle.
“I didn’t know he was police,” said Bryant.
Hoffman, 24, said he stayed behind that night. He said Watson had blood on his ear from the fight, that he’d been scraped when the two were pulled apart. He said Watson began announcing loudly that someone had bit his ear, but also announced that he couldn’t retaliate because he was a deputy.
No uniformed police were called that night.
A few weeks later, Bryant said he was back at the same bar. Someone informed him a deputy was examining his pickup, the one with his name as a mechanic scrawled across the rear window. Bryant chose to stay in the bar and rode home with someone else late that night.
He said he still wasn’t aware of the trouble ahead.
A second deputy
A few weeks later he was back at the bar again. This time he stopped in, played a game of pool and left. He said he’d had one beer. A deputy pulled out of the median and followed.
The deputy put on the lights at a dim stretch of road near a trailer park, about a quarter of a mile from Tennessee. Bryant pulled over.
“I give him my license and give him my gun permit,” said Bryant. He had a handgun wrapped in a grease paper on the floorboards. That part of his story matches the arrest reports. Little else does.
The deputy walked back to his patrol car. Bryant’s lawyers unsuccessfully would attempt to get copies of the radio logs and cell records from this period to find out whom, if anyone, the deputy contacted.
The deputy returned and asked Bryant to exit the car. Bryant said he got out and closed the door. “When I turn around he bust me right in the mouth.” He said the first punch broke his false teeth and split open his lip.
Bryant recognized the deputy. “I won’t forget him for nothing.” But he said it was not Watson. Instead, he said it was the deputy he had seen checking out his truck.
It’s an odd, but crucial disagreement.
Watson is named in all the paperwork as the arresting officer, the one assaulted by Bryant. But Bryant has been consistent on this point. “Watson was not there,” said Sherrod. “Not until at the end.”
“He says ‘I’m not going to have no more trouble out of you,'” recalled Bryant of the moment after the first punch.
“I ain’t done nothing other than get out of the car.”
Bryant said the deputy then pulled out a collapsible baton, hit him in the leg twice, once in the arm and then put him in a chokehold.
“That’s the last thing I remember,” said Bryant. He said he awoke to being kicked. Bryant said he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach by the side of the road.
More than a year later, he showed small raised pink scars on his wrists, saying that’s where the cuffs cut into him while he was beaten.
In the lawyer’s office, Bryant raised his shirt and showed a scar he said was from a stun gun. He said he can’t explain the marks on his thighs.
“That all happened after he’s out and on the ground,” said Sherrod of the injuries.
Those same photos show Watson without a mark on his face.
“Screamed out and charged”
The police paperwork from that night tells a different tale.
The initial warrant by Investigator Jermaine Nettles says he was called to Huntsville Hospital because Deputy Jake Church was escorting a suspect with “minor injuries” who had attacked Watson during a traffic stop.
Nettles arrived at the hospital at 12:09 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2012. Watson told Nettles that he had stopped a white pickup for an improper lane change. He said Bryant provided a driver’s license and a gun permit, but then began to move around inside the truck.
Watson said he hurried back to see what the offender was reaching for, only to have Bryant leap from the truck and attack.
“Writer was advised by Deputy J Watson that the listed offender screamed out and charged him, after he was asked to exit the vehicle,” recorded the investigator at the hospital that night.
“Writer was advised by Deputy J Watson that a brief fight occurred as the listed offender attempted to assault him with his hands.”
Bryant refused to talk to the investigator at the hospital, according to police reports. Bryant says the deputy who initiated the beating was staring at him the whole time. Nettles placed Bryant under arrest for assaulting Watson.
Contradictory police accounts
A second account is attached to the warrant, undated but marked as “release from the hospital.” This one is written as a single narrative in complete sentences. It’s unclear who wrote which account, as Nettles’ is the only name on the warrant.
In this second version, Watson now says he suspected Bryant was “possibly drunk.” In the first account, Bryant lunged from the vehicle. In this version, Watson was conducting a field sobriety test when Bryant attacked.
“Watson then said that offender then began growling and attacked Watson and began fighting Watson, striking Watson with his fist. Watson then said he had to defend himself and call for backup.”
The second account turns a “brief fight” into hand-to-hand combat that rages until back-up reaches the state line. “Upon our arrival Watson was still fighting with offender and had not been able to secure offender in handcuffs at this time. We then had to assist Watson in handcuffing offender and he still continued to fight.”
This second account says medics were called for both Watson and Bryant. Bryant said that’s not true. He said he asked for an ambulance, but Deputy Church placed him in a patrol car. Indeed, the county’s initial account says it was Church who drove Bryant to the hospital.
This second account also introduces Deputy Lane. Bryant is said to have kicked Lane and Lane then used his stun gun on Bryant. It also says he kicked a Sgt. Brooks in the groin. This second account tacks on harassment charges for kicking Brooks and Lane.
But the harassment charge against Bryant was crossed out a couple weeks later, as Lane and Brooks were dropped from the case.
No DUI, no drugs, no speeding
There is no citation for a traffic offense in the state court system.
Bryant said he was not drunk and was not asked to take a Breathalyzer. The arrest report says he changed lanes improperly. Sherrod instead says it was a “revenge beatdown.”
Bryant spent the night in jail. In February of 2013, a grand jury indicted Bryant for second-degree assault of Watson.
“I didn’t never raise a hand,” said Bryant.
Bryant who grew up in north Huntsville and now lives in Kelso, Tenn., said he got into fights when younger. Alabama court records show a drug charge when he was 19 and three years probation, several traffic fines in the early 1990s, but nothing in the years since.
Bryant said he would never knowingly contest a police officer. His logic: “You are looking at a police that has five weapons on his belt.”
A defense worker who had employed Bryant as a handyman sent his son to the jail to post bail, said Bryant. On Aug. 23, 2012, he went immediately to the home of Jason Klonowski.
Assault charges dismissed
Bryant said he knew Klonowski for years, that he helped build Klonowski’s cabin in Lynchburg, Tenn., and would bush hog his property in northwest Madison County.
Bryant said he respected Klonowski’s opinion. Klonowski immediately found him an attorney, Jeremiah Hodges.
“I evaluated the beating of Robert Bryant as a civil rights matter,” said Hodges, who said that prompted him to bring in Sherrod.
Hodges and Sherrod began picking apart the arrest reports. They asked for videotape and GPS information showing which deputies were where that night.
Klonowski was impatient with the legal channels, according to Sherrod. He decided to make some noise and held the protest at his house. At the rally with a few dozen people, Klonowski unbuttoned his shirt to reveal the ‘Support Robert Bryant’ T-shirt. He made scores of signs saying the same.
“This was a guy if he felt like he was right and you were wrong, he would fight you,” said Hodges, who had recently represented Klonowski in a two-year court battle over ownership of a terrier Klonowski had found wandering down the road.
Klonowski was killed on Nov. 3.
The body was not found until Nov. 7.
That same day there was a hearing scheduled to determine the availability of GPS data showing which deputies were where the night Bryant had been arrested.
But the county dropped the charges for assaulting an officer. The paperwork made it official on Nov. 13.
Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard last week told AL.com he has an ethical duty to determine if a case is winnable given the stringent standards of reasonable doubt.
“We made a determination of whether we could prove our charges beyond a reasonable doubt, and evidence of a prior altercation between the two made it an uphill climb in our estimation as far as proving the charges,” said Broussard.
State probes Klonowski killing
Sherrod wrote an open letter to Sheriff Blake Dorning on Nov. 20 stating that Klonowski had received a death threat related to the rally (Click here to see the letter) and asked for outside investigators to step in.
In that letter, which has been widely reported on, Sherrod writes to Dorning that “your deputies, including Jake Church and Justin Watson, savagely beat Mr. Bryant, arrested him and falsely charged him with assaulting a police officer.”
The Sheriff’s Department told AL.com last month that the ABI is now handling the case. The ABI has declined to comment on the investigation.
Bryant says Klonowski’s interest in calling attention to the beating was simple: “Truth and justice.” Sherrod said that Klonowski was motivated by principle. “Jason was outraged by the incident,” said Sherrod.
Unlike Hodges, Sherrod works in anticipation of a portion of a future civil settlement.
Dorning has pointed that out, telling a reporter in November: “That attorney makes money by creating speculation. I can’t say much because of possible litigation, but I will guarantee that we will be 100 percent cooperative and 100 percent committed to bringing the persons or person responsible for that death to justice.”
But Sherrod has fired back, saying Dorning knew Klonowski and knew all about the Bryant case, and should have turned the homicide over to state investigators immediately.
Sherrod contends the sheriff’s brother had been helping remodel Klonowski’s house and had been living with Klonowski at the time of the rally. Dorning has declined to comment.
“Jason was obsessed with this thing,” said Sherrod. “And we think it unlikely that the sheriff didn’t know.”
On Christmas Eve, Hoffman drove Bryant back to Tennessee. Bryant says he no longer enters Alabama without a witness.