ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A jury on Wednesday found a former St. Johns County deputy not guilty of aggravated battery in connection to the beating of a man during a 2019 traffic stop.
Prosecutors argued that Anthony DeLeo went too far by striking Christopher Butler with his fist and a baton during the incident that was partially captured on video by a witness. But the defense said DeLeo was using his baton in a way that is allowed by Sheriff’s Office policies and he did not intentionally hurt Butler.
The incident happen in December 2019 when Butler was pulled over for driving under the influence after a low-speed chase on Interstate 95. DeLeo was fired and charged with second-degree aggravated battery in March 2020.
Butler’s mother, Teri Morgenstern, says this video speaks for itself and the case should have ended with a guilty verdict.
“I have no Idea what happened today. None. I feel betrayed by the court system. I feel betrayed by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. Just betrayal all the way around the board,” she said.
“We got nothing,” Morgenstern said of the verdict. “Not even simple battery from this jury in St. Johns County.”
Terry Shoemaker, Deleo’s attorney, says this video is not an accurate portrayal his clients use of force on Butler.
“The policy says you can use that to get compliance. And if you look at the video, it’s pushed together by the media and shows him continuously striking, striking, striking,” Shoemaker said. “But, when you look at the whole video and everything that took place, there were strikes, stops then trying to get compliance. No compliance. Strike, stop and try to get compliance.”
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson says he believes the jury was not swayed by the video because of what the video is lacking.
“It appears to me, based on the video that I looked at over and over and over again, it’s obstructed,” Jefferson said. “I can’t see what the suspect is doing, only what the officer is doing.”
Attorney John Phillips, who will be representing Butler in an upcoming civil case, issued a statement to News4Jax following the verdict.
“This is a disappointing result,” Phillips said. “The video of the incident proves otherwise. Until we as a society, and within law enforcement agencies, hold reckless law enforcement fully accountable, civil rights are in jeopardy.”