BIBB COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Justin Stewart can still remember raising chickens with his younger brother. He can remember — when they were young, maybe 4 or 5-years-old — jumping on the trampoline with him, laughing together.
But that, Stewart said, was a long time ago: before his younger brother spent his 14th birthday in juvenile detention. Before his little brother became constantly at odds with the law. Before one afternoon a week ago when Austin Hall, now 26 years old, allegedly shot two Alabama police officers — Bibb County Deputies Brad Johnson and Chris Poole. Johnson died the next day.
Stewart said Tuesday his family is heartbroken, and that above all, their thoughts are with Johnson and Poole’s families.
“I am terribly sorry,” Stewart said. “We honestly don’t have the words to say. We’re hurt and embarrassed about what he has done.”
Stewart said that when his grandmother delivered the news about Hall and the deputies, he collapsed to the ground. “I just kept asking ‘God, why?'” he said. “And I’ve been crying ever since.”
Thinking about Deputy Johnson’s children, Stewart said, has been soul-crushing for him.
“It bothers me that he still has the chance to see his son and talk to his son, and that police officer will never have that chance,” Stewart said, his voice cracking as he began to cry.
For years, though, Stewart said that his family had tried to intervene with Hall, even asking courts to keep him incarcerated. Stewart said that at every step, whether attempting to get him mental health help or advocating for him to remain incarcerated, all of their efforts failed. The court system, he argued, should have to answer for giving Hall the opportunity to commit such a crime.
“I just want to see that the court system is held responsible for the mistake they have made,” he said. “They have failed my mother. They failed all of our law enforcement officers that were involved and affected by this incident.”
Stewart said that since Hall’s arrest, his family has received threats.
“There’s been comments made that my mom should be murdered for raising an animal like that,” he said. “And that hurts our family. My mama did everything that she could do. He has ruined someone’s life, and we tried to prevent it from happening.”
Stewart said his brother should be held accountable for what he did. When asked about the possibility of his younger brother facing the death penalty, Stewart’s voice cracked once again.
“I don’t want to upset my mom because it’s still her son,” he said. “But he took a man’s life that was trying to do his job and protect others. It’s not okay.”