- Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
City Police Chief Jeffrey Katz wants to hire an outside expert to review the actions of all officers involved in a 2014 chase and beating of a car’s driver and two passengers — a case already investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that ended with the felony convictions of two city officers who could remain on paid administrative leave for months.
“I think it’s important from a legitimacy and transparency standpoint to have somebody that doesn’t have any knowledge or allegiances to anybody to have that oversight responsibility,” Katz said Friday after a federal jury found Boynton Beach police Sgt. Philip Antico guilty of obstruction of justice.
The 2014 case involves at least nine police officers, four of whom were indicted in June. On Aug. 20, 2014, police say Byron Harris led them on a high-speed chase in which he sideswiped an officer putting out stop sticks and that officer was then hit and seriously injured by the car of another officer. Yet another officer, Michael Brown, then rammed Harris’ car — with passengers Jeffrey Braswell and Ashley Hill inside — and several officers swarmed it. A Palm Beach County sheriff’s helicopter captured video of officers as they dragged Harris, Braswell and Hill out of the car and kicked and punched them.
Katz asked for the FBI and the State Attorney’s Office to investigate the case. Out of the FBI’s investigation came indictments of Brown, Ronald Ryan and Justin Harris — the three officers involved in Braswell’s arrest — and of Antico, their supervisor.. They were all put on leave once they were indicted.
No one involved in Byron Harris’ or Hill’s arrests has been charged.
Katz said his proposed outside review is his recommendation, and would have to be approved by the city manager or commission before being implemented.
“None of my questions have been answered. I have no clearer sense as to what transpired that evening,” Katz said. “I have not been able to ask the question, why were you guys chasing the car?”
Katz said he knows “wrong-doing occurred” but doesn’t know by whom and when.
In addition to Antico being convicted Friday, another federal jury last week convicted Brown of deprivation of rights under color of law and use of a firearm during a crime of violence in connection with the beating of Braswell. The jurors cleared former officers Ryan and Justin Harris of wrongdoing in connection with the arrest.
Katz’s outside review would look at everyone involved that night, which amounts to at least nine officers — Brown, Ryan, Harris, Matthew Medeiros, Stephen Maiorino, Cory Herny and Alfred Martinez, as well as Cynthia Rivera and Pat Monteith, who prosecutors have said did not use force. Monteith was one of the prosecution’s star witnesses.
Not everyone is still employed with the department. Harris and Martinez resigned to work in the private sector. Ryan was fired last year after being found unfit for duty in an unrelated matter. And Maiorino resigned after he was accused of raping a woman but was acquitted.
Katz said those who no longer work for the department would still be asked to give testimony, and said no one would be “immune” from scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Antico and Brown are entitled to a departmental internal investigation, which will start immediately, Katz said. Those investigations have to be completed within 180 days. They’ll be on paid administrative leave until then.
Separate from that, the process to revoke Brown’s and Antico’s licenses has already begun. When an officer has been arrested on a felony the Florida Department of Law Enforcement prepares a case, so if the officer is convicted the process to revoke the license can quickly begin. The licenses of convicted officers are revoked, but only after hearings before a probable-cause panel and the Criminal Justice Training and Standards Commission are completed, said Gretl Plessinger, FDLE spokeswoman. That process generally takes months.
Without a valid certification, one cannot be a law enforcement officer, Katz said.
The department is in touch with FDLE, Katz said, adding that this is “unchartered territory” for him.
As for the outside review, Katz said that could begin once the Department of Justice says it has completed its investigation.
If the outside review uncovers any potential crimes, it would be referred to the appropriate office.
There is a six-year statue of limitations on filing charges. At one of the first court hearings in June, Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Osborne told a judge “we may” bring charges against additional officers.