Today 32-year-old Brian Downing has a wife and baby, a second cousin who’s the sheriff of Russell County, a felony charge of sexual battery and a nationwide notoriety that may dog him the rest of his life.
If convicted of sexual battery, the local Alabama fan allegedly caught on tape putting his genitals on an unconscious LSU supporter in a New Orleans Krystal restaurant after the Jan. 9 BCS championship game will become a registered sex offender, having to notify authorities whenever he gets a new home address, said New Orleans police spokesman Frank Robertson.
On Wednesday the Central-Phenix City High School graduate and University of Alabama alumnus lost his job, fired when employer Hibbett Sports learned he’d been identified as the Alabama fan in the Krystal video.
On Thursday, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor recognized Downing from images posted on the Internet, summoned his cousin to the sheriff’s office and then sent him on to New Orleans, where Downing that night was charged with the felony and with misdemeanor obscenity. He was booked into the Orleans Parrish Jail, where he spent the night.
At 12:46 p.m. Friday, he was released on $10,000 bond.
That same afternoon, Taylor was in his office holding a news conference about a joint drug operation with Phenix City police and state authorities. But what reporters really wanted to ask about was his cousin’s alleged conduct as captured on video about 11:45 p.m. Jan. 9 at New Orleans’ 118 Bourbon St. Krystal.
The entire video lasts about five minutes. But it takes the Bama fan later identified as Downing just a minute and nine seconds to unzip his shorts, expose himself and simulate a sex act, his genitals making contact with the unconscious LSU fan.
Once posted online, the video went viral. New Orleans police saw it and on Tuesday sought the public’s help in identifying the people involved. Websites devoted to irreverent sports news pitched in Wednesday and Thursday, vying to see which could ID the suspect first.
In Phenix City, Taylor started getting calls on Thursday from relatives telling him his cousin was being identified as the suspect. Taylor looked at still photos captured from the video, and decided he had to act.
“It was my responsibility that if I knew who New Orleans was looking for, to make them available, and if that meant putting them in my jail, so be it,” he said.
New Orleans police had no warrant for Downing’s immediate arrest, and did not want to have to extradite him later, so they asked Downing to travel there, where he was arrested about 10 p.m.
Taylor, whose mother and Downing’s grandmother are sisters, said he since has tried to stay out of the matter, but is caught in the middle. Downing and defense attorney Walter Gray have been unavailable for comment, leaving Taylor to answer questions.
The conduct caught on camera is “out of character” for Downing, Taylor said Friday.
“I’m upset with him on two levels: I’m upset with him as an Alabama fan, and I’m upset with him as a family member,” he said. “I still love him, as a family member, but he has to pay a consequence if that is in fact found to be what he did.”
Is there a lesson for others in what happened?
“I mean, you think? Is there a lesson here?” Taylor said wryly. “I mean, boy, you go thinking that you’re going to have a good time and that you’re going to enjoy and celebrate the university’s great win, and the next thing you know, you’re facing a potential sex-offender registration for the rest of your life.”
Whether someone’s photographing what you do in public shouldn’t matter, he said: “It’s about not doing that to begin with. That’s the issue.”
Besides Columbus and New Orleans media and innumerable websites and blogs, others publishing online reports of Downing’s arrest include USA Today, Sports Illustrated, ABC News, the London Daily Mail, the New York Daily News and The Washington Post.
Taylor said Downing once was a talented baseball player.
“He was a good athlete, good high school ball player, had some potential to play junior college ball,” he said. “I don’t know if he did for a period of time or not.”
Downing went to work for Hibbett Sports after graduating from Alabama, Taylor said.
“He’s married to the same wife he’s had since they met in college. They’ve been together for a long time, and recently had a child,” he said.
Downing’s little girl is just three or four months old, he said.
Downing’s job loss shows that the consequences he and his family face for his alleged minute of misconduct extend beyond legal ramifications, Taylor said.
“He’s been there a long time,” the sheriff said of Downing’s work at Hibbett Sports. “That, in and of itself in this economy -- I mean, you lose your job after 10-plus years -- that’s terrible. If nothing else were to happen, that’s bad enough. To have to start over, with this following him the way it’s going to follow him, is very difficult.”