HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The federal trial of Huntsville police officer Brett Russell continued Wednesday in Huntsville. Russell is accused of using excessive force during an arrest in December 2011 and obstructing justice.
Wednesday, the prosecution's primary witness, Officer Joshua Bates, was still on the stand as proceedings continued. Bates was on the scene the night of the incident and can be seen in the video as the victim, Gary Hopkins, was pulled out of the police car. Bates testified Tuesday that he responded to the scene after receiving a call from Officer Amanda Carmean, asking him to help shackle Hopkins’ ankles. Bates says when he agreed to respond he had no idea what the situation would become, and assumed Hopkins must be highly combative.
However, Officer Sean Bragg, the officer who initiated the arrest on Hopkins, said on the stand Hopkins’ behavior did not warrant use of force during his time with him. He said Hopkins was drunk and obnoxious, but compliant.
Bates testified Wednesday that he originally told detectives that Hopkins would not get out of the car and he saw that as possible resistance. In earlier interviews with investigators and in front of a federal grand jury, he testified he did not see Russell strike Hopkins and that Hopkins moved as if to headbutt or spit on the officers. On the stand Tuesday, Bates said he lied in his previous testimonies out of fear for his reputation among fellow officers and fear of losing his job after falling on particularly hard financial times. Bates said he was seeking a promotion that if obtained would prevent him from having to file for bankruptcy.
Wednesday, Bates said he did not file a report about the incident, nor report it to his supervisors or Internal Affairs because he feared going to jail for not stopping it. He can be heard on the video yelling, "Stop resisting so we can shackle you."
Bates was the prosecution's last witness. Prosecutors granted him immunity to testify so he would not face penalization at work, nor charges for lying to a federal grand jury.
The defense then called Russell to the stand just before a lunch break. He testified that Hopkins used racial slurs against him, but they didn't touch him until his backup, Bates, arrived. He further testified that the chest blows to Hopkins were to disabling places he says he learned during training. He said he did not kick Hopkins, but instead kneed him.
Russell's attorney, Emory Anthony's line of questioning insisted that Russell did not attempt to cover up or hide the incident.
Russell also testified that he did not see Hopkins try to headbutt or spit at him, but that Officer Carmean said she witnessed it, so he reported it.
Prosecutors pulled Carmean's phone records, showing ten phone calls between she and Russell after the altercation, but Russell insists they never discussed their police reports.
During the prosecution's cross-examination of Russell, they played a series of dash-cam videos from the incident where conversations between he and then-17-year-old ranger Nick Hall were picked up. On the stand, Russell admitted that the videos recorded him telling the teenager that he could easily "articulate a fake justification report" to excuse any force, as well as plans to "knock him out."
If Russell is convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison for the excessive force charge and up to 20 years for the obstruction of justice charge.