Former Madison Co. deputy indicted on 5 federal charges
MADISON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A former Madison County sheriff's deputy faces five federal counts in connection with a 2012 traffic stop.Justin Watson is accused of a civil rights violation and trying to corrupt a witness.
The FBI began investigating Watson after an incident involving Robert Bryant. Bryant and Watson reportedly got into a fight at a bar. Two weeks later, Bryant claims he was stopped, detained, and beaten. The indictment does not identify Bryant, however court filings from a civil lawsuit go into detail about the 2012 events.
Watson is also accused of trying to persuade witnesses to lie to the grand jury and federal investigators. He's accused of telling someone identified as "A.B." to "keep your mouth shut" about the fight between Watson and Bryant.
Investigators say Watson warned another witness, identified as "J.C." not to tell anyone. "J.C." reportedly told investigators he noticed his head cut out of a photograph of deputies with the Madison County Sheriff's Office. Investigators say when "J.C." asked Watson about the photo, Watson responded with, "When did you go talk to the FBI?" The indictment also states Watson pointed his unloaded handgun to the back of "J.C.'s" head and pulled the trigger.
According to the indictment, Watson lied to a judge, under oath.
In a news conference Monday, Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning said he was arrested by FBI special agents early Monday afternoon after turning himself in.
Dorning said the FBI has agreed to share the information about their investigation at the conclusion of their investigation.
"We owe it to the public to identify any wrongdoing by our employees and take appropriate actions," Dorning said. "A situation like this breaks your heart."
Dorning said they will review the FBI's case file and see what measures they should take for the future.
"We do not condone this type of behavior," he said. "Our personnel are trained very well - above and beyond state requirements."
The charges listed in the indictment are two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law (allegations of use of excessive force and unreasonable seizure). Those charges are punishable by up to 11 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. The indictment also includes three counts of obstruction of justice in relation to allegations of corrupt persuasion, witness intimidation, and misleading conduct. If convicted, these charges could result in a maximum of 20 years in prison on each count and up to a $250,000 fine.
An arraignment and detention hearing has been set for Watson on Tuesday at 3 p.m. in federal court in Huntsville.
Bryant sued the Madison County Sheriff's department. That case was settled in July 2014.
The murder of a man actively protesting Bryant's exchange with the Madison County Sheriff's Department remains unsolved. Jason Klonowski placed dozens of signs on his property that said things like "Stop Police Brutality" and "Support Robert Bryant Beaten By Deputies".
Neighbors found Klonowski dead inside a barn on his property on Highway 53. He was shot. The case is being investigated as a murder.
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