A former Richmond County sheriff’s deputy accused of beating a handcuffed suspect was acquitted Friday.
A Richmond County Superior Court jury deliberated for about two hours before finding Bryan P. Johnson, 33, not guilty of aggravated battery.
Johnson had been charged with the felony offense and fired in connection with the July 24, 2009, arrest of Christopher Kersey at the Country Club Dance Hall and Saloon.
After the trial, Johnson said he is relieved to be vindicated because he is innocent. Johnson wants to return to law enforcement, the profession in which he worked for more than 20 years. The first step is to seek reinstatement of his certification with the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, Johnson said.
In his closing argument to the jury Friday, defense attorney Jacque Hawk implored them to see reasonable doubt in the contradictory accounts of witnesses. Although some testified Johnson was beating Kersey, others saw officers just doing their jobs trying to subdue a combative, intoxicated man. Still others, Hawk told jurors, testified that it was other officers working security that night – Joe Micheaux and Michael Shore – who hit the handcuffed Kersey.
“We’re not fighting about money here, we’ll talking about people’s lives,” Hawk said.
Johnson’s attorney attacked Kersey’s account of what happened as incredulous. Kersey was injured that night, but officers are allowed to use force when faced with violence, he said.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Stewart argued that it was Johnson, not Kersey, on trial. By all accounts, Kersey was drunken and resisting arrest, but he did not deserve the beating inflicted – the kneeing in his face, his head used as a battering ram, and punches in the face while handcuffed, Stewart said.
Displaying a photograph of Kersey’s battered face, Stewart asked the jury to speak for the community and say it is not reasonable use of force to inflict such injuries.
Hawk argued that the sheriff’s investigators went on a witch hunt based of Kersey’s statement that he had two facial bone fractures and a cracked and dislocated jaw. Stewart countered that it was far from a witch hunt and that the decision to arrest Johnson was made at the top, by the sheriff. It was very difficult for officers and prosecutors to take action against one of their own, but it must be done because no one is above the law, she said.
Hawk argued that having Kersey as a prosecutor had turned justice upside down.
Johnson said after the trial that he would love to return to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. He said he doesn’t hold it against the county that it settled Kersey’s civil rights lawsuit.