ASHLAND, Ala. — A deputy whose hand was chopped off by a suspect wielding a bush ax had it reattached in two operations, while the background of his attacker — a minister who was fatally shot in the confrontation — left those who knew him perplexed.
Sgt. Jason Freeman, whose hand was severed Friday, underwent surgery in Birmingham and had a pulse in all five digits of the reattached hand, Sheriff's Capt. Steve Cotney said.
"He is doing well, but a long-term prognosis is undetermined," a statement from the Clay County sheriff's office said late Monday. The office did not immediately return a call Tuesday.
The Rev. Curtis Watts, who was shot and killed by a law officer after Freeman was attacked, was described in an obituary released by a funeral home as a longtime minister who started a church and sang gospel music with his family.
But authorities also knew him as potentially violent. His fatal confrontation with officers came just 10 days after his arrest on a charge involving domestic violence, according to sheriff's officials in rural Clay County, located in east Alabama.
Authorities said they were attempting to arrest Watts on a new warrant signed by a relative when he began swinging the ax and cut off Freeman's hand. The deputy has been with the department about three years and was leading a team of deputies sent to arrest Watts.
The Alabama Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting death, as it routinely does in such cases.
People who knew Watts can't make sense of what happened.
Watts was a logger and sawmill operator and worked for a cabinet company for years, according to an obituary from Benefield Funeral Home, and he became an ordained Baptist minister in 1988.
Watts, 48, helped establish and build Shining Light Baptist Church. With his family, he performed as part of the Watts Family Singers.
"He was a good Christian man. Something happened to him, but I don't know what," said James Crawford, 76, of Ashland.
Clay County Sheriff Jean Alexander considered the operation to arrest Watts a risky one because of what happened during his initial arrest on Sept. 15, when officials said Watts was armed with a rifle and had to be subdued with a Taser.
Watts was released on bond and remained free until deputies attempted to arrest him again Friday.
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Watts' funeral was scheduled Wednesday at the church he helped found. His obituary did not include a list of survivors.