“…defendant Watson pointed his unloaded handgun at the back of J.C.’s head and pulled the trigger.”
Federal authorities today arrested a former Madison County deputy for his role in the roadside arrest and brutal beating of a Tennessee handyman in August of 2012. Deputy Justin Watson, who quit the force in April, was the only one named in the federal indictment.
Watson has been charged with five counts, two related to the stop and beating, one related to lying about it under oath and two more related to intimidating witnesses, including aiming an unloaded gun at a fellow deputy and pulling the trigger.
Robert Bryant last year sued Sheriff Blake Dorning and seven deputies, including Watson, arguing he was stalked, stopped, beaten and wrongfully charged with assaulting an officer in revenge for a barroom scuffle with Watson.
Madison County settled the suit for $625,000 last summer without calling a witness and the FBI announced an investigation into the stop. The indictment was handed down last week and unsealed this afternoon.
“Specifically, defendant Watson willfully stopped and detained (Bryant) without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion,” reads the first count for deprivation of rights under color of law.
The second count of deprivation of rights refers to the physical assault. Bryant has said he was sucker punched, choked, stomped and beaten with collapsible baton. “The offense resulted in bodily injury to (Bryant) and the offense included the use of a dangerous weapon,” reads the indictment based on the findings of the federal grand jury.
The beating of Bryant would largely pass without public scrutiny for nearly a year, until Bryant’s wealthy advocate, Jason Klonowski, was found shot three times in the back of the head at his home just outside Huntsville.
Klonowski, who had employed Bryant as a handyman, had printed t-shirts supporting Bryant and helped pay for his lawyers. Klonowski in September of 2013 grew impatient with the legal process, built a stage in his front yard, hosted a rally and publicly promised to see Watson and other deputies imprisoned.
One month later, Klonowski’s body was found posed in a chair near his barn. The execution remains unsolved, but would set in motion a chain of events that led to the federal grand jury.
The trouble began in the summer of 2012 in a pool hall in Hazel Green with a drunken scuffle between Bryant and an off-duty Watson. Witnesses say someone, maybe Bryant, might have said something about Watson’s girlfriend. The exchange ended with a punch and some wrestling, and both Watson and Bryant being thrown out of the bar.
Watson is now charged with corrupt persuasion of a witness that relates to his effort to track down Bryant’s identity after the fight.
“Specifically, defendant Watson instructed A.B. to ‘Keep your mouth shut’ about both a fight between defendant Watson and (Bryant), and defendant Watson’s subsequent efforts to identify and locate (Bryant).”
Police records show that Watson pressured dispatcher Amanda Billings for information about Bryant’s identity.