ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A former St. Johns County deputy who was found not guilty of aggravated battery in connection to the beating of a man during a 2019 traffic stop says he could never go back to law enforcement.
Anthony DeLeo was accused of using excessive force against a man who was pulled over for driving under the influence after a chase on Interstate 95.
Prosecutors argued he went too far by striking Christopher Butler with his fist and baton, but the defense said DeLeo used his baton in a way that’s permitted by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office’s policies and that he didn’t intentionally hurt Butler. DeLeo was fired from the Sheriff’s Office after videos of the incident surfaced.
“Go from hero to zero just like that,” DeLeo told News4Jax. “One day I’m a cop and I’m loved and I’m proud. And the next day they made me a criminal. I’m not a criminal. I’m exonerated, vindicated and I have been acquitted of any wrongdoing.”
DeLeo added, “I went from 26 years of exceptional exemplary police service, never been disciplined once, to all of a sudden defending yourself and actions from one night, being judged and played in the media. It’s a nightmare no cop wants to go through.”
During cross-examination, Butler admitted he took more than the recommended dose of cold medicine in order to get high before getting behind the wheel, but said he never resisted arrest.
DeLeo said Butler repeatedly resisted 73 commands to surrender and was combative.
“This was a five to seven minute fight that went on with a guy who was admittedly high on cough medicine,” DeLeo said.
The video shows DeLeo hitting Butler with a baton while he is down.
“He bit my partner in the arm. He’s got a huge bite mark. He kept fighting. He kicked me,” DeLeo said.
Butler during cross-examination denied biting or fighting the deputy.
The kick, DeLeo said, injured him because it was a kick to his left leg that had just been reconstructed after a motorcycle accident. But DeLeo was also accused of kicking Butler in the head while he was down.
“His head was at my belt line. My leg never came up came up past a 45-degree angle. It just wasn’t there and thank God the jury saw this,” DeLeo said.
When asked if DeLeo would consider going back to law enforcement, it appears not.
“I loved being a cop. It was my identity. I loved it,” he said. “After this happened, I come to realize the job I love, this agency, the way they handled it left such a bad taste in my mouth that I could never go back to this profession.”
The criminal case against DeLeo is over, but attorneys for Butler are planning to file a civil suit against him since Butler says he was seriously injured during that arrest.
“Absolutely prepared,” DeLeo said. “The video speaks for itself. Upstanding citizens of St. Johns County saw it that way. I’m prepared to explain everything I did.”
The former deputy told News4Jax his son recently became an officer, and DeLeo said he worries for him.
“I worry for all young police officers,” he said. “It’s a different world. Respect is not there.”