Claims Dismissed Against Alabama Officers
Updated: April 3rd, 2006 12:46 PM EDT
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The Decatur Daily (Alabama)
Apr. 3--A judgment dismissing all claims made by widow June Hulett also gave the first public account of exactly what happened on June 30, 2002, during a raid on an alleged bootlegger's house.
It was on that day that law enforcement officers, armed with a search warrant and guns, stormed the home of James Hulett at 1225 Second St. S.W. in Decatur. Hulett, 53, was shot dead in the raid, and his wife was charged with assisting in the sale of alcoholic beverages on a Sunday, a misdemeanor.
Thursday's order by U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith was an overdue vindication of law enforcement officers' actions on that day, according to George Royer, a Huntsville lawyer who represented several of the defendants.
"We thought all along that they used reasonable force," Royer said.
The judge began his written order by noting that June Hulett and her lawyer had presented no evidence beyond that provided by the defendants. The defendants included agents of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, the Morgan County sheriff's office and the Decatur Police Department.
According to Smith's decision, shots by Morgan County Deputy Sheriff Jim England killed Hulett, but Hulett fired the first shot.
The court began with a recitation of James Hulett's criminal record. Normally such information would be irrelevant, but the defendants claimed that their knowledge of Hulett's record contributed to the amount of force they used during the raid.
Hulett's record was lengthy and included a five-year stay, beginning in 1975, in an Alabama penitentiary for assault with intent to murder.
In 1988, he pleaded guilty to menacing after pointing a shotgun at police officers. In December 1988, he was convicted of menacing when he held a gun to the head of the person he believed had called police in the incident that led to his previous menacing charge.
In 1995, Hulett pleaded guilty to third-degree assault for holding a gun to a person's head, saying he would kill that person, and beating that person with the pistol.
Because they knew of that criminal record, the judge wrote, the officers "believed that Mr. Hulett would react violently when they executed the warrant."
The judge's order included these findings about what happened:
The Huletts had a well-established store at their home for selling alcoholic beverages. They had a side door with a sign saying they closed at 5:30 p.m., and they would make about $400 every Sunday, selling to about 20 customers.
$7.50 a six-pack
They charged $7.50 for a six-pack of beer and $1 to $2 for a shot of liquor. Some of their customers drank in the home, and others took beverages with them.
Undercover agents made four purchases in June 2002. They then obtained a search warrant from Morgan County Circuit Judge Steve Haddock.
Most of those participating in the raid were ABC agents. The group also included two deputies of then-Sheriff John McBride: England and Sgt. George Rutherford. One Decatur policeman, Faron White, also participated.
Three of the 10 officers, including England, entered the house through the front door. Another three came through the side door. Several entered while yelling "Police!" and instructing the occupants of the house to get down.
Two customers who were in the house at the time of the raid sat on the floor when the police ordered them to do so.
One of the ABC agents, Steve Burns, then yelled, "He's got a gun! He's got a gun!"
At about this time, hearing the commotion, England broke through the front door, gun drawn. He saw Hulett with the gun and ordered him to drop it.
Hulett shot at Burns, but his bullet hit the refrigerator. Rutherford shot at Hulett's arm, which was the only part of Hulett he could see, but missed. Hulett pulled the trigger two more times, aiming toward Burns, but the pistol misfired. England shot twice, hitting Hulett each time in his lower right side.
Hulett still did not fall, instead pointing the gun at England and stepping toward him. England then fired at him multiple times, stopping when Hulett fell to the floor.
Hulett's wife was on the front porch when the raid began. According to the court, she had no memory of what happened.
Shortly after her husband's death, she told THE DAILY that the law enforcement officers were not wearing uniforms. She said her husband fired at the officers because a year before, robbers had raided the home. Police records confirmed that fact.
An EMT who responded to the call said at the time he did not understand why police handcuffed Hulett, who was unconscious but still alive.
"The main problem is, you are trying to get the IV in the arm," said Kris Reisz. "The angle is all wrong when he is handcuffed. I can't really say if it hurt anything, or if it was just obnoxious." The court did not address this issue.
Nor did the order mention race. James Hulett was black, and his wife is white. She said shortly after the raid that a deputy had made a racial remark to her, and a black group raised the race issue in a City Council meeting.
The first issue that the court addressed was whether the two Morgan County deputies who fired at Hulett used "excessive force."
The court ruled that their use of force -- shooting at Hulett -- was not excessive because the deputies both knew of his criminal record and shot only after Hulett fired his weapon.
"Officers are entitled to respond to deadly force with deadly force," the judge wrote. "The officers reasonably concluded that he might imperil their safety."
The judge also dismissed claims against the others who participated in the raid because, he said, the plaintiff presented no evidence that they did anything wrong. The plaintiff has the right to appeal.
Some people just need killin.
Only in the Bible Belt...............
Stop the War on Bootlegging!
But I like uniforms for raids.
Glad to see the government fighting the "Good War" on illegal spirits, you know with them bein' a threat an' all to the security of America
I can't think of anything better for ten officers to do with their time than stop a guy from selling suds on a Sunday.
That guy needed killing, but i agree.
I suspect the problem is he was selling from his home. So basically you have every hobo, wino and just plain bum in the county showing up in that neighborhood to get drunk. Good way to really ruin the quality of life for everyone in the neighborhood.
Agreed. After ending alcohol prohibition, a lot of pro-druggies who think that legalizing mj, crack, meth, ectascy, whatever, the US would some type of paradise. All it would mean is that you'd have to deal with shit like this 75 years later.
Amazingly, you dont see tobacco cigarette houses like this. Though cigarette smuggling is still a big black market crime.
I know some of you guys have issues with this, but it's against the law to sell booze in Alabama without the proper license. Pretty simple.
And it's against the law to sell booze in AL on Sunday in all but two counties.
Plus bootleggers don't check ID's.