In a seven-part series, AL.com explores a troubling case of police brutality and the mysterious execution of a man who was a champion of the victim. The FBI is looking into the case, which centers on allegations against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department in northern Alabama. The trouble dates to August 2012, when Robert Bryant got into a bar fight with an off-duty deputy sheriff, Justin Watson. That same month, as many as eight deputies stopped Bryant’s car one night and beat him unconscious, knocking out his teeth.
When the beating was swept under the rug by local authorities, Bryant’s friend Jason Klonowski paid his legal bills and became a vocal advocate for justice, hosting a “Stop Deputy Brutality” rally in September 2013. Five weeks later, Klonowski was found dead outside his home with three bullet wounds in the head. The case is unsolved. Last spring, the county quietly paid Bryant $625,000 to settle a civil lawsuit. Nearly everyone involved is still working for the Madison County sheriff, who was re-elected this fall. Reporter Challen Stephens based his series on previously undisclosed documents.