August 16, 2006 - It took more than 22 months to reach a verdict, but a Pima County Justice Court judge has cleared Emmitt Lee Williams of assault charges for his role in an altercation at Arthur Pack Park in September of 2004.
Williams, a former Tucson Police officer and ex-head of the Marana Broncos Youth Football Organization, was facing two counts of misdemeanor assault for allegedly striking Robert Hamblen and his son Jeffrey with a metal folding chair after a football practice.
"Even though it's over and I've been exonerated through the courts, it's something that will live with me for the rest of my life and has been a damaging thing for not only myself but for my family and friends; and my family comes first and foremost," said Williams.
In a six-hour trial on July 17, Pima County Judge Susan Bacal ruled in favor of Williams, saying the ex-cop acted in self-defense.
"I would have bet my house, my family's houses and all the money in the world that she (Judge Susan Bacal) would return a guilty verdict," said Robert Hamblen. "There was no question about what took place and I was just flabbergasted, absolutely flabbergasted."
Hamblen was the head coach of the Bronco's midget football team at the time when the two got into a fracas over equipment and jerseys that were still not available to the coach two days before the season was to begin.
Despite the testimonies of five eyewitnesses, who said Williams was the aggressor, Bacal ruled not guilty on both counts of Class 1 misdemeanor assault. Williams was facing six-months in jail, a $2,500 fine and three years probation for each count.
On the stand, an emotional Williams, a 16-year veteran of TPD, lamented about the effect the incident had on his family.
According to eyewitness testimony in court and statements made to police on the night of the incident, Hamblen was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck when confronted by Williams. As the conversation turned hostile, Williams, who stands well over six-feet tall, allegedly pulled Hamblen within inches of his face and uttered a derogatory phrase. It was after Hamblen pushed Williams off him that violence erupted and prompted Williams to strike Hamblen three times with a metal chair with an overhand "chopping wood" motion.
In the commotion that ensued, Williams grabbed Jeffrey Hamblen - who came to his father's defense - by the throat and lifted him to his "tippy-toes."
What ultimately doomed Hamblen's case was his relationship with the witnesses, which included several of his coaching staff and men he had professional ties to, said Williams' attorney Jason Keller
"All of the state's witnesses had some bias in some way," said Keller. "They were all connected to each other."
At trial, Hamblen's attorney did not question Williams about his spotted past with TPD, even after the defense painted the ex-officer as having an impeccable police record.
Including the incident with Hamblen in Arthur Pack Park, TPD's internal affairs bureau has investigated Williams 11 times since 2000. Five of those incidents resulted in reprimand or suspension, according to TPD records.
"We really felt we had a strong case," said Kristen Kelly, attorney for Hamblen. "In this particular case, it was a judge and not a jury and the judge said that she based her decision off the credibility of the witnesses. We're disappointed, but we certainly respect her decision."
Because of the incident, Williams lost his positions with TPD and the Broncos.
Williams return to TPD is pending an investigation by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board.
"I would hope that the city of Tucson Police department would give him his job back if he wants it," said Keller. "I know that he does have a great love for law enforcement and his family is behind him returning to law enforcement."
Keller has begun preliminary talks with a Tucson law firm should TPD balk at reinstating Williams to his former position with its Operations Division West.
"If it is in God's might that I'm back in law enforcement then I'd do that to the fullest of my ability; but if it's not, I'll continue to move on," said Williams. The former cop said he's self-employed and hinted at opening his own business.
The state offered Williams a plea-bargain in the months leading up to the trial but Williams rejected it. The deal would have had Williams plead guilty to one count of assault and included a year's probation, 12 sessions of anger management as well as a $250 fine and restitution.
Hamblen has amassed more than $4,000 in medical expenses since the incident, including needing a hearing aid to compensate for more than 30 percent hearing loss in his left ear. That number he expects to continue to rise.
Because of double-jeopardy laws, Williams can't be re-tried on assault charges. Hamblen's next course of action will be a civil suit to recover medical costs.
Both men have since left coaching. The Marana Broncos banned Williams from any involvement with the organization, while Hamblen retired after the 2004 season after 10 yeara with the team.