Dept. of Justice investigating Huntsville police officer’s actions in 2011 case

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Police brutality has been all over the news lately. From the shooting of Michael Brown, where the Department of Justice exonerated the officer, to the body slam of Sureshbhai Patel -- where the Department of Justice indicted Madison Police Officer Eric Parker. We have seen the DOJ swoop in to deal with conflicts between communities and police.

Now, WHNT News 19 can confirm that the Department of Justice has an active investigation into at least one member of the Huntsville Police Department for civil rights abuse.

Brett Russell, during his appearance before the Huntsville City Council in 2012. (WHNT News 19 file)
Brett Russell, during his appearance before the Huntsville City Council in 2012. (WHNT News 19 file)

It's been a few years since the incident happened.  On December 23, 2011, Officer Brett Russell arrested Gary Wayne Hopkins. The Huntsville Police Department fired Russell over the incident, but Russell appealed, and the Huntsville City Council reinstated him.

Let's take you back to that night. The city's fact-finding report shows Hopkins was sitting in the back of Officer Amanda Carmean's patrol vehicle. She arrested him because his wife told them he punched her in the face. The wife had an obvious wound.

The report says while Hopkins sat in the back of the car, officers tried to talk to his wife about leaving him. She seemed drunk. They call DHR to take their children.

It is specifically noted how disgusted the officers were -- seeing the plight of the man's kids -- just two days before Christmas.

By the time we catch up with Hopkins, he's relatively calm. But before the video starts -- Hopkins has been spitting, swearing, and has kicked out a window in the patrol car. They have to put him in another one.

Two other officers showed up and made a plan to move Hopkins.

"Shut the **f---** up and listen to me. If you spit on me, it's going to be bad. You understand me?"

Here the other officers are going to offer a plan to get Hopkins into another car. He seems to agree.

"You done kicked out a window. I'm telling you right now, you're going to get put in leg shackles. You understand me? If you move and try to kick me, it's going to be bad. We're going to take you out and put you in leg shackles."

But after the other officers establish the plan, Officer Brett Russell moves in.

"Hey Russell, Russell, go ahead."

In the video from the police cruiser camera, you hear punches and groans.

"Stop resisting."

The video then shows punches and knee drops from Officer Russell.  Eventually, they put him in Russell's car.

Russell tried to take him to the jail, but they wouldn't accept him. Officers had to transport him to Huntsville Hospital for treatment.

The city's fact finding report also specifies that Officer Russell fails to accurately document all of this in his report. It says Russell left his report "glaringly absent" of any information describing the physical force applied to Hopkins.

All of this has become the focus of a Department of Justice investigation.

Huntsville Police Chief Lewis Morris fired Russell for the incident, but the City Council reinstated the officer.

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Chief Morris tells WHNT News 19 the Department of Justice doesn't communicate with him about the investigation. He said the police department has supplied all of its own materials from its investigation to the DOJ.

Officer P.J. Lee, during a Huntsville City Council meeting in 2012. (WHNT News 19 file)
Officer P.J. Lee, during a Huntsville City Council meeting in 2012. (WHNT News 19 file)

Morris said he's also supplied materials on Officer P.J. Lee, who was fired right around the same time after this takedown of a driver who was pulled over for driving too fast while arguing with her teenage daughter. Video shows Officer Lee yanking the driver from the car.

The fact finding on Officer Lee cited multiple instances of misconduct. He was also fired, then reinstated by the City Council.

While Chief Morris says he's supplied information on Officer Lee to the Department of Justice, they have not confirmed one way or another whether Officer Lee is also under investigation.

WHNT News 19 reached out to Officer Russell's attorney, Joe Lampley. He says he didn't want to comment until the Department of Justice investigation reached its conclusion -- either by dropping the case or having a grand jury decide on whether or not to indict Officer Russell.

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