HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – On Thursday evening, a federal jury delivered a guilty verdict on both counts in the case for Huntsville Police Officer Brett Russell after three days of testimony. Russell is convicted of using excessive force during the arrest of Gary Wayne Hopkins in December 2011 and obstructing justice.
When the verdict was read Russell, had no reaction. WHNT News 19’s Daniela Perallon, who was in the courtroom, said he looked straight ahead while family members held back tears.
Russell was taken into custody and will be held in an isolation cell at the Morgan County Jail. His attorney asked the judge to consider special circumstances for Russell because he’s a police officer. But the judge denied that request because Russell was convicted of a violent crime.
“What Officer Russell did was wrong and won’t be tolerated in our police department,” said Huntsville Police Chief Lewis Morris. “With today’s verdict, we will immediately initiate termination proceedings, and we will move to expedite that process any way we can.”
Sentencing is set for September 30. Russell faces up to 10 years in prison for the excessive force charge and up to 20 years for the obstruction of justice charge.
The jury got the case mid-morning Thursday, deliberating for about eight hours before reaching the verdict.
As the prosecution presented closing statements earlier Thursday, attorneys aimed to prove Russell violated Hopkins’ civil rights. Attorneys maintained Russell was acting under color of the law — meaning Russell appeared to have legal power to act, but he acted in a manner that violated the law. They added that he used excessive force, and there was willfulness in his actions which caused injury to the victim.
The defense, in closing arguments, tried to discredit many of the prosecution’s witnesses by questioning their credibility. The defense pushed the point that two of the prosecution’s key witnesses had lied since the beginning, to internal affairs, the FBI and on the stand in front of a federal grand jury. Yet, they changed their stories in Russell’s trial.
The defense also argued the prosecution’s own evidence showed Russell reported Hopkins’ injuries to dispatch and to the hospital.
Russell took the stand in his own defense on Wednesday. He was the only witness the defense called. The prosecution called more than a dozen witnesses.
After the incident in 2011, the Huntsville Police Department conducted an internal investigation and fired Russell. However, but Russell appealed, and the Huntsville City Council reinstated him.
The inappropriate conduct by other officers will be addressed by the Huntsville Police Department, according to Chief Morris.
“At no time prior to, or during, the federal court proceedings has anyone from the United States Department of Justice been in contact with me about the Russell case or about any offer of immunity to other parties involved,” said Chief Morris. “Any federal offer of immunity will have no bearing on our internal investigation and possible personnel action.”