When Boynton Beach Police Sgt. Philip Antico met with FBI agents who were investigating whether his subordinates used excessive force during an August 2014 arrest, he insisted the cops accurately reported that they had kicked and punched three people in a car that led them on a roughly 20-mile chase on Interstate 95 after hitting a fellow officer.
“I never had an issue with these guys not being accurate in their reports and painting a picture of what happened,” he said in a video of the interview that was played for a federal jury Tuesday. The reports, he said, convinced him the rough treatment was justified.
During the interview, Antico joked that he probably should have asked Officer Matthew Medeiros to rewrite part of his report describing injuries he sustained when passenger Ashley Hill’s “face struck my hand.”
“I should have said, ‘Flip that around.’ It’s pretty stupid but I knew what he was saying,” Antico told the agents in the February 2015 exchange. “It was a grammatical error. I knew that’s what it was.”
It wasn’t until later that the agents discovered the problems with the reports were far more than grammatical mistakes.
None of the officers initially reported beating the three people after swarming their car that was finally stopped on South A Street in Lake Worth. That information was added later at Antico’s direction, according to evidence former Special Agent Stuart Robinson said was ultimately retrieved from the department’s computer system.
Until uncovered by the FBI, other officers, including Assistant Chief Joseph DeGiulio, testified they didn’t realize the agency’s computer system records each time a report is updated, creating an audit trail that tracks any changes, who makes them and why.
Likewise, officers testified they didn’t know a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that was summoned to help track the fleeing car had an infrared camera on board that captured what federal prosecutors have described as “a beat down.”
Already “stunned” by what was captured on the video, the discovery of the audit trail was a game-changer, Robinson told jurors.
“Later, we learned that Antico kicked (the reports) back (to the officers) and material changes were made to those reports,” said Robinson, who left the FBI in 2016 and recently became director of investigations for the Palm Beach County Inspector General.
While Antico faces charges of falsifying reports and obstruction of justice, the 37-year-old sergeant wasn’t under investigation when he met with Robinson and another agent. Under an agreement Antico’s lawyer Gregg Lerman crafted with the FBI prior to the meeting, Antico’s only obligation was to tell the truth, Robinson said.
Antico’s duplicity, Robinson said, was shocking. “It affected the credibility of the officers who wrote the reports. It affected the credibility of Sgt. Antico,” he told jurors. “We wondered what they were hiding. … There were a whole slew of questions about who was lying to us and their motivations for lying to us.”
Ultimately, Antico and three other officers were indicted by a grand jury. A jury last week acquitted former officers Ronald Ryan and Justin Harris of wrongdoing in their treatment of passenger Jeffrey Braswell.
It convicted Officer Michael Brown of violating Braswell’s civil rights and using a firearm during a crime of violence for punching Braswell while holding his service weapon. While Brown remains free on bond, he faces a maximum 15-year prison term although a sentencing date hasn’t been set.
Federal prosecutors Donald Tunnage and Susan Osborne claim the officers changed the reports with Antico’s help after they learned about the sheriff’s video.
Lerman claims Antico was simply doing his job. After seeing the video, Antico realized the officers had left key information out of their reports and asked them to change their accounts, Lerman claims. “The changes made the reports more accurate,” Lerman told jurors in opening statements on Monday. “How is that a crime?”
During his questioning of Robinson, Lerman emphasized that Antico’s FBI interview came six months after the incident. Antico’s memory was foggy. He might have remembered changes that had been made to the reports if he had been given the chance to review them, Lerman said.
He also reminded jurors that it had been a stressful night for all involved. Officer Jeffrey Williams was critically injured when he was clipped by the car driven by Byron Harris and then run over by a police officer who was in pursuit. Antico, who was the only supervisor on duty, had to deal with Williams’ injuries and at the same time keep tabs on his officers who were driving at speeds of 100 mph trying to stop the car that hit their fellow officer.
Lerman will continue to question Robinson today. While prosecutors plan to call one more witness, Lerman said it is unlikely he will call anyone to testify on Antico’s behalf. That means it’s likely the case will be handed to the jury by late afternoon. Each of the charges Antico faces are punishable by maximum 20-year term.