HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A jury has been seated in the federal trial of a Huntsville police officer. Brett Russell is charged with using excessive force during an arrest in December 2011.
Russell is accused in a federal indictment of depriving a man of his constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive force by someone acting in the official capacity of a police officer. He's also charged with obstructing justice. Russell has pleaded not guilty.
Jury selection began Monday morning and took two and a half hours. The jury consists of 10 women and two men. The trial is taking place at Huntsville's Federal Courthouse.
After lunch the prosecution and defense offered their opening statements. The prosecution claimed Russell was "angry and seething" during the incident, and that he planned an assault on Gary Hopkins, even going so far as to put on gloves that were in his patrol car. Defense attorney Emory Anthony said the video would show Russell maintained his composure until circumstances required him to take action.
The prosecution called their first witness, 20-year-old Nicholas Hall, who was on a Ranger Ride-along with Russell the night of the incident in 2011. Hall was in a program meant to introduce teens to future careers in law enforcement. For the past few years Hall corroborated Russell's reports. It was only last week that Hall changed his story, telling the jury he "wants to do the right thing and tell the truth." Hall says contrary to Russell's account, Hopkins never spit or head-butted the officers.
During cross-examination, the defense questioned Hall's credibility, citing his "false" reports over the past 4 years.
Russell was fired from his job in May of 2012, but the Huntsville City Council reinstated him three months later.
Russell's lawyer, Joe Lampley, says his client did his job to protect other officers from a dangerous man.
“The ultimate conclusion was that Gary Hopkins was drunk, had punched his wife in the face and she bore evidence of the attack he had perpetrated on her,” Lampley said in a news conference in May 2015.
Hopkins’ wife was also drunk and police had to call DHR to take the children, two days before Christmas.
Hopkins was handcuffed and put in the back of Officer Amanda Carmean’s patrol car. Lampley said as the officer was driving, Hopkins spit at her, called her a “b–ch and a whore several times” and kicked out the back passenger window of the patrol car. Other officers arrived on the scene to put Hopkins in another car. Russell was one of those officers, and as Hopkins was moved, that is where the force was used to subdue him, authorities said.
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.
Court will reconvene Tuesday morning at 9am.