A former Alabama sheriff deputy has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying under oath about his assault against a handyman at a routine traffic stop in 2012.
The sentencing caps off a disturbing saga of stalking, settling scores and a mysterious murder.
On Nov. 18, U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre sentenced former Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Watson to three years in prison for previously stating in court that he acted in self defense when he assaulted Robert Bryant of Tennessee on Aug. 22, 2012, Alabama Media Group reports.
According to court testimony by FBI agent Susan Shimpeno, Watson had developed a grudge against Bryant after the two men had an altercation at a bar in Huntsville in July 2012.
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Shimpeno stated in court that her investigation had determined that Watson had corralled and intimidated his colleagues into helping him track down Bryant after the bar fight. When he had finally cornered the Tennessee man in an intentional traffic stop, he brutally attacked him.
The FBI agent said Watson had “struck [Bryant] in the face, knocked out his teeth, beat him with a baton and choked him until he was unconscious.”
When other officers arrived on the scene, they thought Bryant was dead.
In the initial court proceedings, Watson testified that he was acting in self defense and that Bryant had initiated the altercation. This resulted in charges of felony assault on an officer against Bryant until Nov. 13, 2013.
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Bryant's employer, Jason Klonowski, who defended Bryant and helped pay his legal bills, began vocally protesting the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. In November 2013, Klonowski was found dead by his barn, having been propped up after suffering three bullets to the head.
No suspects have been identified in Klonowski’s murder and no charges filed. Hank Sherrod, Bryant’s lawyer, has accused the Madison County Sheriff’s Department of being complicit in the murder, asserting that any of the deputies who arrived on the scene had mishandled the crime scene.
“We may never know who the killer is because the folks who showed up didn’t treat it as a possible murder,” Sherrod said.
Watson was originally charged with five separate counts: two counts of misusing his authority as as a law enforcement officer, three counts of obstructing justice and one count of perjury. He has only plead guilty to lying under oath before a judge, resulting in the other charges being dropped, according to WHNT.
There has been controversy over the role that other Madison County officers were involved in Bryant’s beating. The victim claims that Deputy Jake Church had been the officer to pull him over and begin beating him. Watson’s guilty plea assumes full responsibility for the assault, resulting in his friends and family protesting that the former sheriff’s deputy is taking a fall for other members of his department.
Judge Bowdre noted that Watson had demonstrated a desire to repent for his mistakes since 2012, but maintained that he still needed punishment to set a precedent for law enforcers lying before a judge.
“The biggest mistake in my life, I lied under oath,” Watson said in court on Nov. 18, according to Alabama Media Group. The former sheriff deputy’s family members were audibly weeping during sentencing.
Following the sentence hearing, Bryant said he was enraged by the sympathy Watson had been given by the judge and court attendees.
“He ruined my life, my family,” Bryant said. “I’m the one who should be crying instead of them.”
Sources: Alabama Media Group (2), WHNT / Photo Credit: Madison County Sheriff's Department/Alabama Media Group