The 26-year-old man with a lengthy rap sheet charged in the killing of a Bibb County deputy sheriff should not have been out of lockup when the deadly shooting took place, according to some state authorities.
Austin Patrick Hall, charged with capital murder in the slaying Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson and attempted murder in the wounding of Deputy Chris Poole, had been in trouble with the law beginning in his teens.
Hall had at least 46 criminal charges lodged against him since 2016.
Hall’s criminal history has been scrutinized and used in a call for stricter laws and reform to lessen the chance of something like Hall’s slaying happening again.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday issued a statement on Hall’s criminal past, calling the state’s Good Time Law – which allows inmates to shave off incarceration days with good behavior in prison – broken.
Marshall also talked about Hall being out on bond for arrests that took place following his formal release from the Alabama Department of Corrections.
At the time of last week’s shooting, Hall had completed a prison sentence for an earlier crime and was not on parole or probation.
Cam Ward, director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, said he agrees with Marshall’s concerns, saying “good time” needs to be more equitable.
Ward also said that better communication among state, county and city law enforcement agencies, as well as court systems, could help to prevent future tragedies.
“I’m like everybody else in that if he (Hall) had that many charges, that many convictions, he shouldn’t have been out,’’ Ward said. “Point blank he shouldn’t have been out. And we see that a lot.”
Hall’s first encounter with the law came in 2016 when he was charged with theft and burglary, for which he received probation. While on probation, he was arrested on nine new charges of theft and burglary, Marshall said.
Hall pleaded guilty to second-degree theft and, in 2018, was sentenced to nine years and nine months in state prison, likely because of his criminal history, Marshall said.
Hall was on work release with the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2019 when he escaped. He was on the run for more than a month when he was taken into custody following a police chase that ended in Georgia.
In that case, Oxford police officers tried to stop Hall when they spotted a vehicle that had been reported stolen out Pelham.
Police tried to pull over the vehicle but the driver – Hall – refused to stop and a chase ensued eastbound on Interstate 20.
The pursuit ended when Georgia State Patrol “pitted” the suspect at mile marker 5. Hall’s vehicle overturned but he was not injured.
“Despite this, after serving less than four years of his sentence, the shooter was awarded correctional incentive time (good time), which was, and inexplicably remains, permissible under the state’s ultra-lenient incentive time law,’’ Marshall said.
At the time of his capture, Hall also had outstanding warrants in Chilton County for domestic violence.
While he was being held in the Calhoun County Jail in 2020 after his recapture, court records show, authorities say Hall attacked an officer and tried to choke him. He was charged with second-degree assault.
Hall was indicted in Calhoun County in May on 10 charges of second-degree receiving stolen property, reckless endangerment, second-degree assault, certain persons prohibited from carrying a firearm, drug possession, resisting arrest, attempting to elude and third-degree burglary.
Those indictments stem from the 2019 incidents in Calhoun County.
Hall ended his sentence on April 8, 2022, and was fully released from the Department of Corrections’ custody and supervision.
“Days after his release from state custody, the shooter bonded out of jail on 10 new charges in Calhoun County and 12 new charges in Chilton County—including charges of assaulting a police officer and illegally possessing a firearm,’’ Marshall said.
“In both counties, his bond was set in keeping with the recommended fee range. After he made bond, the shooter walked free to await his trial.”
Marshall said as was the case with the 2021 death of Sheffield police Sgt. Nick Risner, “this tragedy requires that we reassess the state laws and policies that abetted this shooter in the death of Deputy Brad Johnson.”
He said, as he has said previously, that Correctional Incentive Time laws are broken.
“Had the shooter served his entire sentence, he would not have been able to commit his brazen crime spree across our state, which ended in capital murder,’’ the attorney general said. “Furthermore, an inmate who escapes custody should never, under any circumstance, be rewarded with early release.”
Ward said he agrees with Marshall on the need for changes in the good time laws.
“Good time does have a place in the criminal justice system,’’ Ward said. “The problem we’re seeing with good time is a lot of times, someone’s getting credit only for the good.”
“It should be a more equitable system. You count good time, but every time there’s an escape or a violent act or you’ve made an infraction, it should be counted against that good time, so you have a true measure of whether someone is doing it right or not,’’ he said.
“In this case, Marshall is correct,’’ Ward said. “There are instances where we’re not truly balancing out the entire picture of good time. Good time has a role. The problem is, you’ve got to count the bad days with the goods days, and right now they’re just counting the good days.”
Additionally, Marshall said, the crime of assaulting a police officer should be a Class B felony, not a Class C felony. The bond schedule for assaulting a police officer needs to be increased to better account for the severity of the crime.
Class B felonies are punishable by two to 20 years in prison. Class C felonies are punishable by a minimum of one year and one day to a maximum of 10 years in prison.
“As I said last week, Alabama’s justice system failed the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Brad Johnson. I stand ready to partner with the Alabama Legislature to correct these deficiencies at the earliest opportunity and will continue to fight against any effort to further weaken Alabama’s criminal justice system.”
Ward said a “calamity of errors” took place in Hall’s case that just shouldn’t have happened.
“It’s kind of baffling,’’ he said. “The system overall needs to be overhauled.”
He said because of a disjointed communication system between state county and city, oftentimes you don’t get a complete picture of somebody.
“Right now, to get a complete picture of that guy, I had to go into five or six databases to figure out his complete picture,’’ he said.
“It’s so easy now in hindsight to look back and point fingers, but how was he out on bail? It’s easy to point fingers after a tragedy, it is, but we all agree there’s some holes that we’ve got to tighten up,’’ he said. “People making the decisions sometimes are not getting the complete picture of the person they’re making a decision on.”
“When you piece together his timeline, there’s multiple holes that need to be fixed,’’ Ward said. “A lot of times, it’s going to be boring, mundane reforms, but it’s the kind that communication that can make all the difference in the world.”