(TMU) – This past January, three deputies with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in Florida were placed on administrative leave after shocking video recorded by a witness showed them viciously beating and tasing 30-year-old Christopher Butler during a routine traffic stop.
While police alleged that Butler was under the influence of PCP, Butler’s attorney maintained that he was instead unable to comply with police commands because he was suffering from a diabetic event.
And now, as video from the incident has made the rounds and shocked local officials and citizens, one of the cops involved has been fired and is now facing criminal charges for aggravated battery.
Former St. Johns County deputy Anthony DeLeo, 51, could be seen in the video savagely kicking and beating the unnamed and desperate young Christopher Butler on the night of Dec. 29, 2019. Butler had been driving erratically on the highway before being pulled over in a Winn Dixie shopping center by a Florida Highway Patrolman (FHP).
At that point, the FHP trooper hit him with a taser while St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputies unleashed their attack on him.
Butler can barely remember the events that happened that night. However, he does know that officers “asked me to open the door and they started beating me.”
“It’s just so abusive and it just goes on for so long,” attorney John Phillips, who represented Butler, told News4Jax in January. “They just kicked him and used a baton and tased him over and over.”
Butler not only suffered a fractured nose but also a fractured scapula and humerus from the incident.
Fortunately, a witness was also able to capture cell phone video of the altercation before handing it over to Butler’s mother, Teri Morgenstern, who passed it along to the media.
Following the incident, the Sheriff’s Office claimed that he was under the influence of PCP during the arrest. However, this proved to be false.
“He was not high on PCP and any statement to that effect is going to result in defamation,” Phillips said. “He was having, as we understand it, a diabetic or blood sugar event throughout the course of this. Regardless, even if he was hopped up on whatever, you can’t just beat somebody because they’re high on drugs.”
The sheer brutality on display in the video compelled investigators to determine that a “gratuitous amount of force” was used. It also convinced Sheriff David Shoar to file criminal charges of aggravated battery against his former deputy, reports The Florida Times-Union.
“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 read.
According to the sheriff’s report, Butler was hit 19 times, kicked twice in the head, and tased twice in the span of only three minutes and 44 seconds.
For Butler’s mother, just watching the video is painful. For her, what her son went through “wasn’t a beating – that was torture,” Morgenstern told First Coast News.
“Christopher was sick,” she added. “He needed help. He didn’t get that. Instead, he got tortured.”
“They kneed Christopher in the face and punched him in the face inside the car,” she explained. “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.”
Morgenstern is happy that one of the officers who tormented her son is facing criminal charges, but she remains adamant that he shouldn’t be hired in a neighboring county where he can continue abusing civilians under color of authority.
“I’m grateful, I’m happy,” Morgenstern said. “This is one step closer to showing police brutality exists in every state in every county. It doesn’t matter your race, it happens. And we need to get this out there so it doesn’t happen to someone else’s kid.
“I don’t want [DeLeon] to leave this county and go to Duval and become an officer there tomorrow because they can if we don’t go get his certification,” she continued. “I want his certification gone. I don’t want it to be your child or your child or another one of my children to be beaten—savagely beaten, like he beat Christopher.”
“They beat him like he was nothing. Like he wasn’t a human being,” she added.
While DeLeo is facing criminal charges for the incident, former Deputy Joseph McGinnis was also fired for failing to intervene and stop the beating, while their supervisor also faced a reprimand for failing to question deputies over their account of what happened and simply signing off on it.
Butler’s attorney, John Philips, specializes in police brutality cases – and sadly, his client’s case is all too typical of local law enforcement. In statement, Phillips said:
“Other officers must be charged as well. The videos speak for themselves. It is the start of justice, but only a small step. This was abuse. It took too long to label it as so and we pray DeLeo is held fully accountable.”
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