HUNTSVILLE – Former Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Watson, 31, pleaded guilty today to obstructing a federal investigation into the beating of a local handyman, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and the Justice Department announced.
According to evidence presented in court, Watson, while off-duty, got into a bar fight with the handyman. Watson searched for the man over the next several weeks, and when he observed the man driving down the highway, Watson pulled him over and ordered him out of his truck. Watson proceeded to strike the man in the face, hit him with a baton and choke him until he was unconscious. At a later criminal proceeding, Watson knowingly and falsely claimed, under oath, that he had never seen the man before the traffic stop and that he had not gotten into a bar fight with the man.
“This deputy, who was sworn to uphold the law, brazenly chose to violate it,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We cannot, and will not, tolerate police officers who lie under oath to obstruct the pursuit of justice.”
“My office is committed to investigating allegations of police misconduct, and prosecuting cases where appropriate, in order to ensure that everyone in our community can expect fair treatment from law enforcement,” Vance said. “Any law enforcement officer who tries to interfere with an investigation into police misconduct should expect scrutiny for that misbehavior, as well. The vast majority of police officers performs their duties with integrity, even in difficult and trying situations, and supports efforts to prosecute officers who commit misconduct. We appreciate that professionalism and want the public to be aware that we are committed, alongside of our state and local law enforcement colleagues, to ensuring that police officers behave in a fair and lawful manner.”
Watson faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. He will be sentenced at a later date.
This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Stuart Burrell and Trial Attorney Christopher Perras of the Criminal Section of the DOJ Civil Rights Division.