Boynton Beach Police Officer Michael Brown no longer faces a mandatory five-year prison term in connection with the 2014 beating of an unarmed passenger of a car that led cops on a high-speed chase.
In a 17-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg threw out the most serious of two charges the 48-year-old veteran officer faced. She ruled that federal prosecutors had not proven Brown committed a crime of violence in connection with the beating of 19-year-old Jeffrey Braswell that was captured on videotape. Therefore, she ruled, the conviction couldn’t stand.
While handing Brown a huge victory, Rosenberg rejected his request to toss out his conviction on a charge of deprivation of civil rights. While the charge carries a maximum 10-year prison term, under federal sentencing guidelines, Brown would be sentenced to “at least one year but not more than three years” in prison, his attorney Bruce Reinhart said in court papers.
Rosenberg’s decision last week came a day after prosecutors and Reinhart debated a complex and largely unsettled area of law. Courts have ruled that there are times when causing bodily harm isn’t a crime of violence. Because questions swirl around the issue and Brown’s actions weren’t properly decided by the jury, his conviction must be thrown out, she wrote.
“Any lack of clarity as to when a defendant’s conviction qualifies as a crime of violence must be resolved in the defendant’s favor,” Rosenberg wrote, quoting appellate court decisions.
Brown and Sgt. Philip Antico, who was convicted of obstruction of justice by a separate jury, are to be sentenced next month in connection with the beating that rocked the police department.
Before she metes out their punishment, Rosenberg must decide whether Antico deserves a new trial because a juror claims she was bullied by other panelists into voting to convict Antico for lying to FBI agents, who were investigating the beating. Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Osborne counters that juror Devin Andersen Treadway’s allegations are insufficient to warrant a new trial.
Antico was the only supervisor on duty when nine officers chased a car that clipped a Boynton cop and then fled on Interstate 95. A video, captured by a Palm Beach County sheriff’s helicopter, showed officers punching and kicking Braswell, the car’s driver and another occupant. Two other officers were acquitted of wrongdoing.
The officers’ initial reports didn’t describe the beating. Prosecutors claimed Antico helped officers revise their reports only after learning of the video. In a meeting with FBI agents, Antico denied any changes were made. He faces a possible three-year sentence but his attorney, Gregg Lerman, is pushing for probation.