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One-time Alabama Deputy Justin Watson is in police custody after being charged with assaulting a Tennessee handyman three years ago during a traffic stop and arrest, according to a federal indictment of the officer.
Watson faces five separate federal charges related to the August 2012 arrest and assault of handyman Robert Bryant. The former deputy, who left the Madison County Sheriff earlier this year, is also charged with two counts of witness intimidation and another for false testimony.
The arrest follows a $625,000 settlement between Madison County and Bryant, who launched a lawsuit in 2014 against seven deputies and Sheriff Blake Dorning, according to a report from the news website AL.com.
According to Bryant, he and Watson got into an altercation at a bar. Afterwards, he claims he was followed and then pulled over by Watson who beat him up. Eventually the handyman was charged with assaulting a police officer.
It took around a year for the incident to garner attention, making major waves only after Jason Klonowski, an employer and public activist for Bryant's cause, was shot to death at his home near the Alabama city of Huntsville. The body was found in a barn on his property, seated in a chair.
The case eventually triggered a federal grand jury investigation that led to the recent indictment. The indictment, which was issued on July 31 and released by officials on Tuesday, states that "specifically, defendant Watson willfully stopped and detained (Bryant) without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion."
Watson is also charged with a count of obstruction of justice for corrupt persuasion of a witness.
"Specifically, defendant Watson instructed A.B., [the witness's initials] to 'Keep your mouth shut' about both a fight between defendant Watson and (Bryant), and defendant Watson's subsequent efforts to identify and locate (Bryant)," the indictment reads.
In an alleged attempt to conceal the fact that he had an earlier interaction with Bryant in the pool hall before pulling him over, Watson reportedly asked the officer who took him to the hospital not to reveal the previous connection.
"Specifically, after defendant Watson admitted to J.C. on or about August 22, 2012, that he recognized (Bryant) from a previous incident, he warned J.C. not to tell anyone."
There is disagreement over whether another officer was in the vehicle during Bryant's arrest. While the victim maintains that Deputy Jake Church was at the scene, police records cite Watson as the deputy who carried out the arrest. Bryant's account of the events claim Watson exited the vehicle and attacked him, while Bryant claims the deputy punched him in the mouth after he got out of the car.
Before quitting on April 5, Watson was put on a two week paid suspension in January 2014. No other officers were sanctioned for the incident.
While prosecutors expressed the possibility of granting Watson a $25,000 bond, US Magistrate Harwell Davis has not yet decided on the matter, with the judge expressing concerns that the deputy could be a danger for the community, AL.com reported.
Watch VICE News' 'Talking Heads: A Look Back at the Violence in Ferguson.'