Birmingham Police Officers' unreasonable force trial starts Monday

By Johnathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM,AL (WBRC) - The trial of 2 former Birmingham police officers for allegedly using excessive force after a high-speed chase starts Monday. David Wayne Doran and Barrett Dewitt each face a federal charge of using unreasonable force at the end of a high-speed chase on January 23, 2008.

On Sunday, one of their attorneys said she's confident they'll be found not guilty. "This investigation, if it does anything for the citizens of Birmingham should cause them to thank every officer for going to work everyday and defending them, even when they're wrongfully accused of a so-called 'civil rights violation," said Fraternal Order of Police attorney Gayle Gear.

The 22-minute chase, captured on dashcam video, shows suspect Anthony Warren hitting one police officer and nearly running over a few others during a high speed chase that ends when he is thrown out of his van as it flips on an interstate onramp. What happens next is the most memorable image, Birmingham Police officers swarmed Warren and beat him with their hands and at least 1 club. The aftermath of that chase ended 5 officers careers with the city, launched a civil lawsuit, and put Dewitt and Doran on trial this week for allegedly violating Warren's civil rights.

"Not surprised," Warren's attorney Wendy Crew said earlier this year after the indictments were handed down. "We have claimed civil rights violations from the beginning of the lawsuit. We have always agreed with what Chief Roper said after he viewed the video---that in regard to these officers there was a failure of training, policy, procedure, practice. So we agree with Chief Roper on this."

"We need to put it in perspective," Gear said. "We have at least a 22 minute chase where Mr. Warren is attempting to injure police officers and our citizens, and did in fact attempt to seriously harm a Hoover officer. For 5 seconds, Mr. Warren apparently claims, through his criminal lawyers, that those 5 seconds have some bearing on the fact he was trying to kill people out on the highway."

Gear says the 2 officers were veterans with awards and no behavior problems on their record, a history she says will help them at trial. "Why would they start having a problem on Jan. 23, 2008? Why would 5 seconds carry the day when they've been there for over a decade, each of them? If they're good for a decade, why would they be bad for 5 seconds?"

Doran and Dewitt each face 1 charge of using unreasonable force, and Gear may have previewed part of the closing argument a jury will hear this week during an interview Sunday. "We have to balance some things," Gear said. "We have a community we're obligated to, and then we have civil rights we're obligated to. We make every effort to keep them properly balanced. But for 5 seconds these officers had to make a split-second decision."

The trial starts Monday in federal court in Birmingham. Anthony Warren is suing the city of Birmingham and several current and former officers in civil court. That lawsuit has been delayed until after this criminal trial.

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