Former Madison County Sheriff’s deputy Justin Watson faces federal prison

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Former Madison County Sheriff’s Office deputy Justin Watson is scheduled to report to prison next week for a three-year prison term.

Based on court records the two-week window for Watson to appeal his sentence appears to have passed on Dec. 20, 14 days after U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre formally entered her sentencing order.

The origins of the case against Watson began with a bar fight between Watson and a Tennessee handyman, Robert Bryant, in June 2012. Federal prosecutors said Watson decided to get even with Bryant for the fight and he used sheriff’s office personnel to help identify and eventually locate Bryant.

The government says Watson initiated a traffic stop against Bryant in August 2012. The resulting encounter left Bryant badly beaten, tazed, choked, and charged with assaulting an officer.

Sheriff’s Office pictures following the encounter show Watson relatively unmarked.

A few months after the incident Watson testified at Bryant’s preliminary hearing and denied under oath, several times, that he’d ever encountered Bryant before the traffic stop.

The charges against Bryant were eventually dropped. He sued eight deputies, including Watson and Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning. Bryant won a settlement of $625,000 from Madison County.

The FBI eventually got interested in what happened to Bryant and Watson was indicted in July 2015.

Watson pleaded guilty in January to a charge of obstruction of justice and his sentencing hearing was held in November. Four other charges against Watson, including an unlawful traffic stop and beating, and witness intimidation, were dropped by federal prosecutors as part of his plea deal.

The obstruction charge was based on his false testimony during Bryant’s preliminary hearing.

No other deputies faced federal charges, despite the fact that Bryant has said from the outset that Watson wasn’t the deputy who stopped him that night.

Watson’s attorney Michael Tewalt asked the court to give Watson a sentence of probation, but Bowdre said Watson’s conduct was a breach of the public trust and merited prison time.

Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning has said that once the case against Watson was finished, his office would conduct an investigation to find out if any other employees should be disciplined for their roles in the incident.

The sheriff’s office said it would seek the FBI’s investigative files in the case through the Freedom of Information Act.