BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Monday a federal grand jury indicted a Huntsville police officer in connection with a conspiracy to make cocaine trafficking charges against an individual go away.
Lewis Hall, 45, of Meridianville, was indicted on charges of conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice and making a false statement to investigators, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr. and Huntsville Police Chief Lewis Morris announced.
According to the charges, Hall conspired with someone identified in the indictment as "Individual B" to pay a fellow police officer $5,000 if that officer would claim his July 29 vehicle search that resulted in drug-trafficking charges against "Individual A" was unlawful, which would make the criminal case against Individual A go away.
The Huntsville officer who conducted the vehicle search and, subsequently, assisted in the investigation of Hall is identified in the indictment as "Cooperating Officer."
"The Huntsville Police Department contacted the FBI as soon as we learned of possible corruption and we assisted the FBI in its investigation," Chief Morris said. "I want to assure the public that this indictment addresses the actions of one police officer, and the Huntsville department will diligently address any other issues that might come to our attention. We value the working relationship we enjoy with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office and appreciate their attention to this case."
According to the indictment's conspiracy count, on July 31, Hall and Individual B discussed offering the Cooperating Officer a bribe to tell other law enforcement officers that his search of Individual A's vehicle, which uncovered about three ounces of cocaine, was unlawful. The indictment said Hall offered the bribe to the Cooperating Officer on July 31, paid him $1,000 on Aug. 12, and had two follow-up conversations in November about what the officer was supposed to say when asked about the search of Individual A's vehicle.
The bribery count charges Hall with corruptly offering the bribe to an agent of the City of Huntsville and its police department, which received more than $10,000 in federal benefits within one year, to influence the Cooperating Officer in how he reported the July 29 vehicle search.
"Our community expects and deserves police officers who will protect citizens and uphold the law, not tarnish their badge and work to protect criminals," Vance said. “The U.S. Attorney's Office prosecutes public corruption cases to punish those who violate the law and the public trust and to reinforce the need and expectation of integrity in government and police service."
The obstruction of justice count charges Hall with offering the bribe with the intent to delay or prevent the reporting of a felony or possible felony offense and the violation of conditions of supervised release by Individual A.
The false statement count charges Hall with knowingly making a false statement to a FBI agent on Dec. 8, saying he did not give money to the Cooperating Officer in connection with that officer's reporting of his search of Individual A's vehicle.
The maximum penalty for both the conspiracy and the false statement charges is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the bribery count is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the maximum for the obstruction count is 20 years in prison and a $250,000.
The FBI investigated the case in conjunction with the Huntsville Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney George A. Martin Jr. is prosecuting the case.
Case against officer taints ongoing cases
Charges against officer Hall will most likely result in the cases he is currently involved in at the police department being dropped by the local district attorney's office. According to Huntsville based defense attorney Brian Clark, serious charges that bring into question an officer's character make it almost impossible for charges he is a witness or arresting officer to be brought to a jury.
"If I am one of those defense attorney's with a client and he (Lewis Hall) is involved in the case, I'm telling my clients, you just got a free pass," Clark says.
Clark has had clients in similar situations have the charges against them dropped when one of the law enforcement officers involved in the case was arrested and charged.
"They are not going to allow that officer to get on the stand and testify in any of the ongoing cases, because then it opens up the officer to cross-examination where all of the pending charges could be asked by the defense attorney.
WHNT News 19 reached out the DA's officer for comment about the case, but so far our calls have not been returned.