WASHINGTON – A federal jury in Opelika, Ala., has convicted a former deputy sheriff with the Russell County, Ala., Sheriff’s Office of a civil rights offense for his role in the assault of a handcuffed man, announced the Department of Justice. Timothy Andrew Watford, 42, of Phenix City, Ala., was found guilty of willfully depriving Patrick Harrington of his constitutional rights while acting under color of law.
“When law enforcement officers abuse their power and violate the civil rights of those in their custody, they will be held accountable,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute those who cross the line to engage in acts of criminal misconduct.”
“This case would not have been successful without the courage of the investigators, the witnesses and the victim,” said George L. Beck Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. “We are especially appreciative of Russell County Sherriff, Heath Taylor, for his prompt administrative and cooperative actions. While it is always difficult to prosecute a member of our law enforcement community, my office is dedicated to seeking justice for all.”
The guilty verdict came after three days of testimony and represented the culmination of an investigation that began in November 2010. Evidence presented at trial established that shortly before midnight on Nov. 26, 2010, Harrington was apprehended and handcuffed by bail recovery agents in Lee County, Ala. Minutes later, Watford and another Russell County officer named Kirby Dollar learned of Harrington’s apprehension and drove to his location in an unmarked police vehicle. The two men were accompanied by a Phenix City police officer named Rachel Hauser. All three officers had been off-duty attending a party at Dollar’s house.
When the officers arrived, Dollar and Watford approached Harrington, who was lying handcuffed on the ground and offering no resistance. According to all eye-witnesses, Dollar and Watford then began punching, kicking and slapping Harrington about his head and body, causing Harrington to suffer multiple lacerations, facial fractures and a ruptured eardrum. Witnesses also confirmed that the attack was entirely unprovoked.
Dollar and Watford were both indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2011. In mid-August, Dollar pleaded guilty under an agreement that capped his sentence at 57 months. During the trial, Dollar was called as a witness by the defense and told the jury that he and Watford had committed the assault together. Watford then took the stand and admitted slapping the handcuffed man twice in the face.
Watford faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the civil rights charge. A sentencing date has not been set.
The case was investigated by the Mobile Division of the FBI- Montgomery Office and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Russell County Sheriff’s Office, the Lee County Alabama Sheriff’s Office and the Columbus, Ga., Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nathan D. Stump and Jared H. Morris and Trial Attorney Benjamin J. Hawk of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.