Executive Director Bryan Shorstein, speaking for the office of 7th Circuit State Attorney R. J. Larizza, reported to Historic City News this afternoon after a St Johns County jury returned an acquittal verdict in the case of State of Florida vs Anthony Deleo.
Sheriff’s investigators determined that 52-year-old Anthony Deleo used a “gratuitous amount of force” during the arrest of Christopher Butler on December 29, 2019, in a Winn-Dixie parking lot along CR-210.
“We take no pleasure in prosecuting a veteran law enforcement officer for excessive use of force,” Larizza was quoted by Shorstein. “But, based on the circumstances, we believed it was the appropriate thing to do. The jury worked hard to reach a verdict in a difficult case, and we respect and appreciate their efforts.”
Prosecutors charged Deleo with second-degree aggravated battery after reviewing video that showed him kicking and beating the unarmed man. Deleo was fired from the sheriff’s office following the incident.
- According to the charging affidavit, Butler was pulled over after the trooper saw him driving slowly and swerving on Interstate 95. Dashcam video from the patrol car of the state trooper who initiated the traffic stop, as well as mobile phone video from a witness, played often in news broadcasts prior to the trial and was played before jurors and those attending in the courtroom this week.
- The graphic video evidence was not enough to convince the jury. They deliberated for about three hours today before returning their “not-guilty” verdict to Judge Lee Smith at about 2:30 p.m.
- The defense made their case on testimony that Butler kicked, bit, and scratched law enforcement officers and ignored dozens of commands. In “use-of-force” investigations, it is not uncommon to see officers respond with greater force than they meet. The justification is that people doing illegal things pose a danger to law enforcement.
Today’s closing arguments challenged the jury to decide whether Deleo used excessive force considering the circumstances and whether Deleo was responsible for the extent of Butler’s injuries. The sheriff’s office report stated that Butler did not resist during the ordeal.
The evidence showed that Deleo kicked Butler in the head twice and beat him with his baton 19 times while Butler sat on the ground naked. Butler, a St. Augustine resident, was hospitalized from his injuries. His mother said in an earlier interview that “It’s barbaric what they did to him”.