Questions remain about criminal past of man accused of shooting Bibb deputies

The man accused of shooting two Bibb County Deputies, leaving one dead and another injured has an extensive arrest history, leaving some wondering why he wasn't behind bars.

Austin Hall is charged with three counts of capital murder and one count of attempted murder in a shooting that killed Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson, and injured Investigator Chris Poole.

Court records show Hall has had over 40 criminal charges since 2012. Those range from traffic violations and drug possession, to burglary, theft, alluding police, and resisting arrest. He also has two assault charges, one stemming from an incident in Chilton County that he pleaded guilty to in 2018. Another pending charge comes from Calhoun County, where he stands accused of assaulting a corrections officer at the jail in 2020. In April, Hall apparently came to the end of a sentence that was initially set for 10 years, according to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. Hall also bonded out of jail in April.

"When I saw his name and picture, I thought why is this guy out of jail?" said Oxford Police Chief, Bill Partridge.

Wednesday was not Partridge's first time hearing about Hall. His officers chased Hall in 2019 as he ran from law enforcement in a stolen vehicle. Hall stole that vehicle after he escaped from a Department of Corrections work release.

"In 2019 he was in a stolen vehicle. He refused to stop. He was chased into Georgia, where he was finally pit maneuvered, and crashed his vehicle--arrested on multiple charges. Including for the stolen vehicle and felony possession of a firearm," said Partridge.

Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement Thursday:

My Office is closely scrutinizing the policies that allowed for a violent offender, like Hall, to walk free. The justice system failed these officers and I will do everything in my power to ensure that doesn't happen again.

ABC 33/40 spoke with Marshall Friday as his office examines Hall's history to determine if there were loopholes, weaknesses, or if something wrong was done during his time in the criminal justice system. Marshall said his office is approaching this similarly to their investigation behind Sgt. Nick Risner's death in North Alabama in 2021.

Marshall pinpointed Hall's escape in 2019. Hall's court records did not indicate he was charged with escape in that incident.

"Understanding there was an escape from him serving a sentence, why that escape wasn't charged or should have been charged and whether or not that should've placed a hold on him so that he could not have been released from either the facility in Calhoun County or any other facility he would've been housed," said Marshall. "Again, as he went back through the system, knowing he had that escape, that escape should've been something that likewise should've held him in one of our county jails. Specifically, you would believe that would've occurred in that jurisdiction where he escaped from."

Knowing Hall's criminal history and that he was currently out on bond when he shot the two Bibb County deputies only added to the pain many in the law enforcement community already feel.

"If you've committed a violent crime and shown you can not be in the public's purview, then you need to be behind bars," said Chief Bill Partridge. He argued bonds should only be given in cases where people are charged with a misdemeanor or Class D felonies.

"That's why I've been an advocate for cash bonds. Cash bonds can keep individuals behind bars a lot longer and hopefully, they can get through the judicial system, be sentenced, and be placed in prison. It seems to me across the country they are trying to get rid of cash bonds and bonds altogether. That's absolutely ludicrous."

Criminal defense lawyer, Tommy Spina, said bond is a constitutional right that comes from the presumption of innocence.

"You can't just presume someone is guilty in this country and give them no bond, except in a capital case or in a case that involved a death," said Spina. "You have to be mindful, in spite of what's happened in recent weeks, we still have a Bill of Rights in the constitution--a right to bail is a specified right in the constitution."

After examining Hall's record, Spina said it is possible because of Hall's complicated arrest history which is spread across multiple counties, miscommunication could be a factor in him being out of jail.

"In a perfect world when a person on bond picks up another case, the bond he or she is on is subjected to being revoked. When a bond is revoked, under those circumstances, it creates a no bond. Therefore that person is not allowed to make bond because he has violated the terms and conditions of his original bond," said Spina. "If he's bouncing around counties, county 1 might not know he picked up that case in county 2. There should be some mechanism where they should know."

Spina explained the process would be similar to cases for probation. If a person violates the terms of their probation, there are consequences.

There are factors that can be looked at when setting a bond like is the person a flight risk, is the person going to show up to court, or is the person a danger to the community?

"Perhaps his bond should have been set at a much larger number because a bond that you cannot make is the same as no bond," said Spina. "Someone should've been arguing,' he's a danger to the public.' That didn't happen. It fell through the cracks I guess. I don't think anyone intentionally allowed him a bond knowing he had a propensity for violence."

Chief Partridge said that repeat offenders are not a new issue.

"We deal with people over and over and over again who go through the justice system and come right back out again and is serving very little to no time. They are continuing to victimize people. They are continuing to shoot people. They are continuing to murder people. It has to stop. They have to hold people accountable for what they are doing. especially these violent criminals," said Partridge. "Everything should be looked at. Obviously, something is not working."

Partridge added if jail overcrowding is the issue, more jails and prisons should be built.

"Felons do not need to be walking our streets. They need to be held accountable."

The Attorney General's office is in the process of reviewing what can be done to prevent further incidents from happening.

"I think that's what we are in the process of reviewing right now. Is it a change in state law that otherwise we could allow for circumstances that this particular suspect was able to take advantage of can no longer be in place?"

After Sgt. Risner's death the Attorney General's office noted the state had one of the most liberal "good time" policies. This year, legislators amended the state's "good time" law which takes days off of a person's sentence. The amended policy stops anyone convicted of a crime that causes another person's death from getting "good time" credit.

The case with the Bibb County deputies puts a spotlight on non-violent offenders.

"I think it is a reminder again when we have discussions about criminal justice reform that those that point to non-violent offenders as people otherwise people who are not a danger to society, this is a man who had multiple non-violent offenses, but yet not only assaulted another officer during a previous arrest but obviously shot and killed one the Bibb County deputies and injured another," said Marshall.

Marshall said the legislature could review the bond process. He emphasized when evaluating the criminal justice system, public safety has to be the priority.

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