HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The first morning of testimony in the federal excessive force trial of Stevenson Police Chief Daniel Winters placed him at the scene of a suspect beating and later expressing contempt for the suspect’s medical condition in March 2015.
The federal charges include assault by Winters while on duty and allowing another man, Jackson County business owner Bobby Hicks – a civilian – to beat a suspect in his presence. The case focuses on an alleged burglary from Hicks’ funeral home and the encounter that followed on March 22, 2015.
Capt. Eric Woodall, who heads the investigation division for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, testified he was called to a home on Old Highway 72 in Stevenson, where Winters had gone as part of an apparent burglary investigation.
Woodall testified when he drove up to the scene Chief Winters met him before he got out of his truck. Woodall said Winters told him he had “knocked the hell out of him,” referring to suspect David Fulmer. Woodall also testified Winters told him he’d been put in a “bad spot.”
Woodall said Winters didn’t explain who put him in the bad spot.
Under questioning, Woodall testified officers are trained to use only the amount of force necessary to take a suspect into custody. Prosecutors asked if law enforcement officers are allowed to beat a suspect because they’ve stolen something, or stand by while a friend beats a suspect?
Woodall said no, that was not part of an officer’s job and would be inconsistent with his duty.
Under cross-examination he was asked if he’d ever enlisted a civilian to help him catch a fleeing suspect. Woodall said he couldn’t recall such a scene.
Part-time Stevenson dispatcher Ronnie Sartin, who’d been a dispatcher for more than 20 years, testified that he’d never seen a prisoner come to the jail looking like Fulmer.
Sartin testified that he and two officers at the jail took pictures of Fulmer, to make it clear his injuries – including multiple cuts and bruises on his face and torso – did not occur at the jail.
Sartin also testified that Fulmer seemed to have trouble breathing and another inmate told him he’d been spitting up blood.
Sartin said late that afternoon he called Chief Winters and told him Fulmer needed medical attention at the hospital.
Sartin testified that Chief Winters’ only reply was ‘(bleep) him.’
Another officer directed that Fulmer be taken to the hospital.
Sartin testified that he didn’t share the photos with anybody until he was asked for them by the FBI.
The encounter followed Hicks telling Winters about a burglary from his funeral home.
After Hicks identified several items as being stolen that morning, he and Winters went to a rental property Hicks owned.
The defense contends that the chief knocked on the door and it opened. He spotted the grandfather clock inside, defense attorney Robert Ray said, and called out to Hicks. The chief went inside the home and Fulmer came running toward the door, holding an object above his head, the defense claims.
Hicks punched him, Fulmer then got up and scrambled outside, where the chief and Hicks tried to keep him from escaping, the defense says.
Testimony Tuesday morning included a Jackson County 911 dispatcher, Rachel Wilson, along with Sartin. They both testified about the series of calls they handled that morning, including noting the chief was going to the residence, calls from passers-by who reported two men beating a third man or two men fighting and a call for an ambulance that was quickly rescinded, and later re-ordered.
The trial is ongoing, before U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala.