Bryan P. Johnson, 33, has pleaded not guilty in Richmond County Superior Court. His trial continues this morning.
Johnson is accused of committing the felony when he and two other deputies arrested Christopher Kersey, 39, the night of July 24, 2009, at the Country Club nightclub on Washington Road.
That night, Kersey was doing what most people at the club were doing — drinking with friends and dancing, Assistant District Attorney Laura Stewart told the jury in her opening statement. On the dance floor, another person bumped into Kersey more than once and Kersey thought it was intentional, she continued. A scuffle began and two deputies in full uniform — Johnson and Deputy Joe Micheaux — moved between the two to break it up.
According to the prosecution’s case, Johnson used excessive force to get handcuffs on Kersey inside the club, rammed his head into the wood doors, and once outside repeatedly struck Kersey, Stewart said.
Defense attorney Jacque Hawk countered that defense witnesses portray Kersey as physically violent and verbally abusive as he fought the officers’ attempts just to get him to leave the club and when that failed, to cuff his hands. Because Kersey was fighting the officers, Johnson was justified in using force to gain control of him. Once outside, the other officers punched a handcuffed Kersey, Hawk told the jury.
Stewart said investigations found additional evidence in Johnson’s own words: Johnson later bragged in the sheriff’s department records division that be beat up Kersey, and he was recorded on a convenience store video camera bragging to store clerks about beating Kersey.
Johnson’s defense attorney told the jury that Kersey’s 2005 arrest in a similar incident involving a drunken rage was overlooked by investigators after Kersey told them in 2009 that he had never been involved in a violent incident. Hawk also told the jury that evidence will show Kersey greatly exaggerated the extent of his injuries and was more concerned about suing the city.
The city commission settled a federal lawsuit for $150,000 in 2012.
Kersey was initially charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer but the charge was dropped. Johnson was fired after his arrest several days afterward.