HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — The Madison County Sheriff’s Department has settled for $625,000 with Robert Bryant, the Tennessee mechanic who claimed he was savagely beaten by several deputies and falsely arrested in retaliation for a barfight over a woman.
“We’re pleased with the settlement, but the insurance company paying is not the equivalent of accountability for the officers who did this,” said Hank Sherrod, Bryant’s attorney, this morning.
Bryant has claimed he got in a dispute in a pool hall with Deputy Justin Watson. He said he was later followed by deputies, pulled over without cause, asked to step out of the vehicle, and assaulted.
He said that night in August of 2012 several deputies joined in stomping him while he was handcuffed at the side of the road. He said they knocked his teeth out, beat him unconscious, used a stun gun on him, hit him with a collapsible baton and charged him with assaulting an officer.
The sheriff’s three-paragraph statement today did not confirm the amount. Instead, the press release from Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning denies all wrongdoing and claims the insurance company settled the case to save money on litigation.
“The Madison County Sheriff’s Office admits no liability or responsibility with regard the alleged allegations…”
“The County’s insurance company settled this case out of court to minimize expected attorney’s fees and other legal expenses that would have been expended if all eight of the defendants and the five law firms representing them were to have litigated this case to a conclusion a process that likely would have taken several years,” reads the sheriff’s statement. ” All seven of the Madison County Deputies and the Sheriff were represented through legal counsel paid for by Madison County’s insurance company under the County’s insurance policy.”
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court on March 10 named Dorning and eight of his deputies. They were Watson, Stan Bice, Chad Brooks, Jake Church, Ryan Countess, Drew Lane, Jermaine Nettles and Mike Salamonski.
Police reports from the incident say Watson pulled over Bryant for an illegal lane change. In one police account, Bryant leapt from his truck to attack Watson. In another, Bryant attacked Watson during a field sobriety check. Both police accounts say Watson fought for his life until backup arrived.
The lawsuit instead alleged Deputy Church “in order to assist defendant Watson in getting revenge against plaintiff” pulled over Bryant and initiated the beating.
Bryant’s suit reads: “During the incident, Church, without provocation, among other things, punched plaintiff in the mouth, struck him with a baton, rendered him unconscious using a choke hold, and then, after cuffing plaintiff, beat him, mostly in the face,” reads the federal suit.
“Other deputies arrived and participated in beating plaintiff or watched as other officers beat the unconscious plaintiff, doing nothing.”
Deputies reported no contraband in the truck and Bryant was not found to be intoxicated.
Bryant was taken to Huntsville Hospital that night and placed under arrest. Madison County in November of 2013 dropped the charges, just days after Bryant’s vocal financial backer, Jason Klonowski, was found shot dead at his home just outside Huntsville. Klonowski’s murder remains unsolved.
Bryant sued in March of this year. The case quickly moved into mediation. The court on May 2 granted 90 days to attempt to reach a settlement, meaning neither side has filed substantive documents in a few months and the case was largely handled away from public view. The legal timeout was just about up and the civil case stood to resume in the next few days.
Dorning alone had asked to be dismissed from the case, as the only allegations against him were that he later learned of the wrongful arrest and did nothing to correct it. Dorning’s attorneys wrote in court earlier this year: “The complaint does not plausibly allege that Sheriff Dorning obtained knowledge of the malicious prosecution at a time when he could have intervened to prevent criminal charges from being filed against Bryant.”
Dorning today denied any wrongdoing by his deputies. His statement said: “The Madison County Sheriff’s Office admits no liability or responsibility with regard the alleged allegations made by Robert Bryant against any of the Madison County Deputies named in the lawsuit in connection with this settlement.”