68ºF

St. Johns County deputy fired, accused of battery after beating motorist during traffic stop

Video shows Deputy Anthony Deleo hitting Christopher Butler 19 times with his baton and kicking him in the head twice

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office deputy was fired and accused with aggravated battery Thursday after he was seen on video beating an unarmed man during a December traffic stop.

St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar on Thursday withdrew the commission of Deputy Anthony DeLeo, ending his employment with the Sheriff’s Office. Shoar also filed a criminal charge of aggravated battery, a second-degree felony, against DeLeo for his use of force against Christopher Butler on Dec. 29.

UNCUT CELLPHONE VIDEOS (caution, some viewers may find these videos disturbing): Part 1 | Part 2

Family told News4Jax that Butler was severely injured by deputies after he was pulled over for driving 15 mph on Interstate 95. Attorney John Phillips, who is representing Butler, said Butler was going through a medical episode when he was pulled over.

Video of his arrest, captured by a witness and a state trooper’s dash camera, shows that over a nearly four-minute span DeLeo hit Butler 19 times with his baton, and kicked him in the head twice, while Butler was sitting on the ground offering little resistance.

After DeLeo hit and kicked Butler, minimal effort was made to handcuff Butler, according to a warrant affidavit.

“Based on the actions of (DeLeo), the gratuitous amount of force applied and the extent of injuries sustained by the victim; probable cause was established for the charge of aggravated battery,” the warrant affidavit stated.

According to authorities, Butler would not cooperate during a traffic stop.

After he was pulled over on County Road 210, a witness captured what happened next on his cellphone and shared it with Butler’s family. Morgenstern later shared the video with News4Jax.

In the video, Butler can be heard screaming and moaning when he was shocked with a Taser several times. Later in the video, DeLeo comes at him with a baton.

“They beat him like he was nothing. Like he wasn’t a human being,” his mother Teri Morgenstern told News4Jax.

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.

RELATED | Lawyer: Traffic stop beating one of the worst cases of brutality I’ve ever seen

Charges for DeLeo, 51, have been sent to the State Attorney of the 7th Judicial Circuit which will review the case.

Two other St. Johns County deputies who were involved in the incident — Joseph McGinnis and Patrick Ponticello — were placed on paid administrative leave after the video surfaced. Those deputies will not face criminal charges, but their actions are still being investigated by the Sheriff’s Office.

The Florida Highway Patrol told News4Jax that the trooper who pulled Butler over and used his Taser on him was not disciplined.

Butler remains in St. Johns County jail accused of multiple charges including two out-of-county warrants, resisting arrest and driving under the influence.

Phillips said they are looking into filing suit against the Sheriff’s Office, as well as the deputies involved.

“The video of the good Samaritan wasn’t damning, it was truth-telling. And that’s the problem, particularly with St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office that refuses body cams. The lack of camera, the lack of video oversight gives them immunity,” Phillips said.

Philips also released a statement, which reads, in part: “We hope more arrests aren’t coming. We hope reform is coming. This is the first step towards justice. If you have information or have been abused by this office, please come forward.”


About the Authors: