A federal judge this morning sentenced two former Russell County sheriff’s deputies to prison time for their roles in the November 2010 beating of Patrick C. Harrington.
Tim Watford will serve 34 months, while Kirby Dollar was sentenced to 46 months.
Dollar must also pay about $5,000 in restitution to Harrington, and serve two years of supervised release after serving his sentence.
He will begin serving his sentence on Feb. 27.
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The former deputies were convicted last year of deprivation of rights under color of law – Watford was found guilty at trial Sept. 1, while Dollar accepted a plea bargain from prosecutors that capped his sentence at up to 57 months.
Supporters of the deputies had urged U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller to grant the deputies leniency because of their military and law enforcement careers. Prosecutors, however, said the men brought shame to the badge and severely injured Harrington.
"Good, hard-working police officers around the state have to be trusted," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan D. Stump told Fuller before a packed courtroom here. "We honor our men in blue, our women in blue, but we also hold them accountable. We expect more of our police officers than this."
Fuller lectured Dollar about the significance of wearing the badge, saying criminal cases often rely on the word of reliable officers who have sworn an oath.
“We cannot have individuals in these positions who violate the public’s trust,” the judge said.
The Harrington beating happened Nov. 26, 2010, in a deserted parking lot in Lee County. Watford had been at a party at Dollar’s house when Dollar received word from a bondsman that Harrington, 32, had finally been captured on outstanding warrants.
Harrington, who has an extensive criminal history and is now in prison on a probation violation, had eluded Dollar on two previous occasions.
Handcuffed and lying on the ground, Harrington was beaten about his head and body, receiving numerous cuts, facial fractures and a ruptured eardrum, according to authorities. (Harrington has filed a multimillion-dollar civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for those injuries.)
Watford admitted standing by during the assault, but he insisted at trial that his only contact with Harrington came after the fugitive spat blood on him. Watford claimed he walked over to Harrington to check on him after Dollar’s assault and then reacted violently.
“I made a mistake,” Watford testified. “I shouldn’t have slapped Patrick Harrington.”
According to witnesses, Watford has played down his role in the assault. Former Phenix City police officer Rachel Hauser, who accompanied the deputies the night of the assault but was not charged, testified that Watford struck Harrington “with a closed fist.”
“During the assault, Dollar and Watford invoked their authority as law enforcement officers by questioning (Harrington) about possible criminal activity,” Dollar’s plea agreement says. “Because they were law enforcement officers, Dollar and Watford were able to assault (Harrington) without interference from several bystanders.”
Dollar may receive a lesser sentence than Watford because he pleaded guilty in August instead of going to trial. He had faced up to 57 months, or just less than five years, under the terms of a plea deal.
Prosecutors this morning asked Fuller to impose the full 57-month sentence: "This was not a momentary lapse of judgment," Stump said. "This was a calculated, pre-meditated decision to take vigilante vengeance on this man.”
Dollar's defense attorney, Christine Freeman, asked Fuller to take into account Dollar's prior actions. She said he's faithfully supported his family and has already been punished to a large degree by losing his career.
“He knows he made a mistake," Freeman said of Dollar. "We’re in no way arguing he’s not culpable or not guilty."
"The court must consider the good things Mr. Dollar has done," she added.
The federal sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence between 70 and 87 months in Watford's case.
In new court filings this week, prosecutors said the outpouring of support for Watford -- hundreds signed a petition and dozens wrote character letters on his behalf -- highlighted his “attitude of indignation rather than remorse.” A lighter sentence, especially to the tune of probation, “would not afford adequate deterrence against the violent and abusive crime in which Watford participated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared H. Morris argued.
“Watford has never accepted responsibility for the entirety of his conduct, and the letters of support he has filed demonstrate his continuing minimization of that conduct and his portrayal of himself as a victim rather than a culprit,” Morris wrote in a brief.
“Instead of acting like a police officer and stopping Dollar’s vicious attack, Watford joined in and helped Dollar commit a crime,” Morris added. “The evidence at trial indicated that, while Dollar threw most of the punches, Watford assisted Dollar in the assault by holding the victim, choking the victim, and kicking the victim.
Supporters of Watford, who served a tour of duty in Iraq, point to his actions in uniform as grounds for a lighter sentence. But Morris said the former deputy failed to paint a complete picture of his military and law enforcement career to the court.
“During his time in the military, Watford was disciplined for substance abuse problems and demoted in rank,” wrote Morris, who filed supporting documentation under seal. “He was ultimately discharged for reason of misconduct.”
Law enforcement achievements also shouldn’t factor in sentencing “because they were part of the very function that he was hired to perform,” according to Morris, who added that “multiple disciplinary actions” were taken against Watford for insubordination and failure to control his temper on the job.
Morris also took issue with Watford’s claim that his family will lose military benefits if he is sentenced to prison time.
“An official with the Army National Guard has indicated that Watford is currently eligible to receive those benefits only so long as he remains enlisted. The official further indicated that Watford will likely be discharged given his conviction in the case regardless of his sentence and therefore already stands to lose his benefits.”
Prosecutors also have pointed to Harrington’s extensive injuries, which included a ruptured eardrum.
“To this day, (Harrington) continues to have difficulty with his hearing and vision and suffers headaches and daily drainage in his injured ear,” Morris wrote. Because Harrington has been jailed in state penal facilities since this assault over one year ago, “he has not had an opportunity to receive all of the medical attention that he likely needs.”