3 St. Johns County deputies on leave after videos shows man beaten during traffic stop
Christopher Butler was severely injured during his arrest on Dec. 29, family says
ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Three St. Johns County deputies were placed on paid administrative leave last week after the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office received video showing a man being struck repeatedly and shocked with a Taser during a December traffic stop.
The two videoes were recorded by a witness and given to the family of Christopher Butler, the man involved.
According to authorities, Butler would not cooperate during a traffic stop but his family said the video shows excessive force in its worse form.
“They beat him like he was nothing. Like he wasn’t a human being,” his mother Teri Morgenstern told News4Jax.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that three deputies were put on paid leave after the family came forward last week with the videos.
Butler was still in jail Monday. He was injured badly and is charged with several counts of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. The family said it’s the deputies who need to be arrested.
The incident began when a Florida Highway Patrol trooper pulled Butler over on Dec. 29 after he was seen driving 15 mph along Interstate 95. After he was pulled over on County Road 210, a witness captured what happened next on his cell phone and shared it with Butler’s family. Morgenstern later shared the video with News4Jax.
St. Johns County deputies had already arrived to help the FHP trooper to get Butler out of the car when the video starts recording.
In the video, Butler can be heard screaming and moaning when the Taser is used several times. Later in the video, a deputy comes at him with a baton.
Max Maxim was within feet of the altercation and told News4Jax he could only hear what was happening.
“I said why would they be repeatedly tazing him, so I didn’t know if he hit them, had a knife on him, or had a gun on him," Maxim said. "It was dark, I didn’t see well, so I didn’t know if it was warranted or not.”
In the report from the Sheriff’s Office, investigators said Butler was being uncooperative and was not responding to commands. They believed he was on drugs because it appeared to them the Taser had no effect, according to the report. Butler’s mother said that was not the case at all.
Morgenstern said her son was on medication for a cold and did not take any illegal drugs. He was at home with his family and kids before the stop, she said. According to an offense report from the Sheriff’s Office, a Flagler Hospital evaluation found that Butler was under the influence of Phencyclidine, also known as PCP, at the time of his arrest.
Butler was out of jail on probation from a robbery and aggravated battery conviction, court records show.
“They kneed Christopher in the face and punched him in the face inside the car,” Morgenstern said. "And our video shows once they had him on the ground they started kicking him in the face. They beat him so many times with the baton. They kept punching and my kid ended up at the hospital in critical care.”
The report of the incident said the FHP trooper deployed his Taser and Butler went to the ground. The report said Butler then started to take off his pants. The St. Johns County deputy said he hit Butler several times to the side of the face but he was not phased and yelled he was Jesus Christ.
The deputies said Butler continued to fight them. One deputy said Butler bit him. Eventually, the report said they were able to roll him over handcuff him and he was taken into custody.
“And a few parts of that video you can see he’s already in handcuffs and you can see the other officer and you can see the other officer push his hand and say stop quit it’s good I’ve got it but you’re still beating him and he is in cuffs,” Morgenstern said.
The Sheriff’s Office said it was not aware of the video until Butler’s mother came forward filing a complaint last week.
“Once we received the video we immediately placed three individuals on administrative suspension,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan said. “And of course they have no law-enforcement powers at this pending the outcome of that case.”
According to the arrest report, Anthony Deleo, Joseph McGinnis and Patrick Ponticello were the deputies involved in the incident.
Morgenstern said she doesn’t want the deputies on the street.
FHP told News4Jax that the trooper who pulled Butler over and used his Taser on him was not disciplined.
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