Huntsville officer’s trial: No mention of Hopkins’ hospital visit after arrest in 2011, according to sergeant


Brett Russell, in the blue shirt, leaves Huntsville’s Federal Courthouse on the first day of his trial. (WHNT News 19)

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The prosecution plans to call more than a dozen witnesses today in the trial of a Huntsville police officer charged with using excessive force and obstructing justice.

Brett Russell has pleaded not guilty. His trial is taking place at the Huntsville Federal Courthouse.

Tuesday morning, the prosecution called three witnesses.  Officer Jeff Poe, a training advisor who also oversees the teen Ranger program, talked about use of force training.  Poe said he reviewed the video, and said in such a situation Russell's actions could be warranted, but based on his interpretation of what he saw in the video, it was not warranted.

Stephanie White, a public safety dispatcher, also testified about the events of the night according to what was reported to dispatch.

Prosecutors also called Officer Sean Bragg, who is currently a school resource officer but was assigned to patrol duty in 2011.  Bragg was the officer who initially arrested Gary Hopkins.  Bragg testified Hopkins was compliant during all his interactions with him, including Hopkins' arrest and transfer to Officer Amanda Carmean's vehicle at the scene of the incident.

Bragg 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.

Others in the police department took the stand Tuesday, including Lt. Anthony Hudson, who was a Sergeant at the time and was on the scene December 23, 2011 after the incident in question occurred.  Lt. Hudson said he was never told about Officer Russell punching or kicking Hopkins, and said to his knowledge, it was not reported at the time.

"If use of force causes injury that requires more than simple first aid it is required to be reported to supervisor in an 'after action report'," Lt. Hudson said.

The prosecution then called two witnesses from the Huntsville/Madison County Jail who explained booking procedures.  The manager of Huntsville Hospital's medical records division testified Hopkins was admitted after 10 p.m. and released from the hospital after 1 a.m.

Sgt. Clay Warmbrod, the Sergeant who received the report after the incident on December 23, said Russell made no mention of Hopkins being turned away from booking at the jail and being sent to the hospital.  Sgt. Warmbrod said there was no mention of punching or kicking Hopkins, and no mention of Hopkins complaining of pain.

Officer Russell wrote in the incident report that Hopkins resisted arrest and tried to spit and head-butt officers and threatened Ranger Hall's life.  In earlier testimony, we learned Ranger Nicholas Hall, now 20, was on a ride-along with Officer Russell that night.

"By policy you have to notify supervisor if [arrestee] is taken to the hospital or complains of pain," said Sgt. Warmbrod.  He said these reports are important because use of force/hospital admittance/complaints of pain from suspects warrant further investigation and questioning of the officer by supervisors.

In response to Russell not mentioning these things in his report: "By not noting things that trigger they processes, you've circumvented the system," Sgt. Warmbrod said.

The prosecution also brought their primary witness, Officer Joshua Bates, to the stand Tuesday afternoon. Bates was on the scene the night of the incident and can be seen in the video as Hopkins is pulled out of the police car. Bates testified 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.

Bates said when he arrived at the scene he approached Hopkins and told him he was going to shackle his ankles. He said Hopkins was compliant and calm. He testified that the use of force displayed in the video was unwarranted and at the time left him "in shock."

In earlier interviews with investigators and in front of a Federal Grand Jury, Bates testified that 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.

Bates said that testifying against a fellow officer was the "toughest situation" he's ever been in.

The prosecution promised Bates impunity if he testified.

The defense used this information to call Bates' motivations for testifying and his credibility into question. Defense Attorney Emory Anthony presented Bates' past written statements describing the incident, noting Bates' own words calling himself a "trustworthy man and officer."

Cross examination was cut short when court let out for the day at 5:15.  On Wednesday morning, the defense will pick up where they left off.