After roughly 5½ hours of deliberation, a jury deciding the fate of Boynton Beach Police Sgt. Philip Antico on Thursday said it had reached a verdict on two of the charges the veteran officer faces in connection with the beating of three people in an August 2014 arrest but were deadlocked on the third charge.
U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg sent the panel of eight women and four men home for the night, asking them to return today to resume their deliberations. In keeping with court rules, the jury didn’t reveal what charges it had addressed or what verdicts it already had reached.
Many of the 12 officers who gathered in the courtroom to show their support for Antico were on hand last week when a different jury convicted Officer Michael Brown of two charges in connection with the beating of Jeffrey Braswell, a passenger in a car that struck Officer Jeffrey Williams and then led police on a 20-mile chase. That jury cleared former officers Ronald Ryan and Justin Harris of wrongdoing in connection with the arrest federal prosecutors describe as “a beatdown.”
Antico, 37, is charged with two charges of falsification of records and one count of obstruction of justice. Each charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
“He turned a blind eye and then went to the FBI and tried to trick them into looking the other way,” prosecutor Donald Tunnage told jurors in closing arguments.
He and fellow prosecutor Susan Osborne claim Antico helped officers, including the three who were tried last week, change their reports to distort what happened when they finally stopped the fleeing car on South A Street in Lake Worth. Further, they claim, Antico lied to FBI agents about changes he authorized so it appeared officers had just reason to kick and punch Braswell, along with driver Byron Harris and passenger Ashley Hill.
Unfortunately for the officers and Antico, the assault was captured on videotape by a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that was summoned to track the fleeing car, Tunnage said. Once Antico learned about the video, he helped his officers change their reports to justify their actions.
Defense attorney Gregg Lerman countered that Antico is nothing more than a “scapegoat” who was used by department brass to clean up what the lawyer described as “a mess.”
“He got stuck in the middle,” he said. “He was the monkey in the middle but he didn’t want to catch what was being thrown back and forth.”
Antico, he said, didn’t try to deceive anyone. He knew police had photos showing the bloodied and bruised faces of Braswell and Byron Harris, Lerman said. By the time the reports were updated, Antico had watched the helicopter video.
“How is he covering anything up?” Lerman asked jurors. “What sense — what common sense — does that make?”
When Antico asked the officers to revise their reports, he was simply doing his job, Lerman said. Returning from vacation seven days after the incident, he realized at least five of the seven officer who used force in the arrests hadn’t reported what they had done.
As a sergeant, it’s Antico’s job to make sure the accounts are accurate, he said. “He didn’t do anything but what he was supposed to do and that’s read, revise and counsel on reports,” Lerman told the jury.
But prosecutors countered that Antico went well beyond simply correcting minor errors. He helped the officers distort the truth, they said.
“He decided that even though those five officers completed reports that don’t explain what happened, I’m going to kick them back and make this work,” Osborne told jurors.
Even then, she said Antico didn’t force the officers to reveal the full extent of their misdeeds. Brown, who faces a maximum 15-year prison sentence, never reported that he hit Braswell while holding his service revolver, she said.
Further, she said, Antico allowed Harris to change his report so it didn’t reveal that he hit Braswell after he was handcuffed. In his final report, approved by Antico 45 seconds after it was revised, the word “handcuffed” was deleted.
Then, after the reports were repeatedly revised to partially explain what force was used and why, Antico declared the officers’ actions were justified, Osborne said.
“He looked the other way for the next few days while the officers revised their reports to lie and cover up what they had done,” Tunnage agreed.
Six months later, when questioned by FBI agents who were summoned by Chief Jeffrey Katz to investigate the incident, Antico said he didn’t have any problem with his officers’ initial reports. Later, the agents discovered an audit trail that detailed all of the changes that had been made at Antico’s urging, Tunnage said.
Lerman urged jurors to look at the totality of the circumstances. Williams was hit by the fleeing car and then run over by a fellow officer. He was critically injured. The car then led nine officers on a 20-mile chase on Interstate 95 from Gateway Boulevard in Boynton to West Palm Beach and back to Lake Worth.
Emotions were running high. That, he said, doesn’t excuse officers’ behavior. But, he said, it explains it.
Further, he said, Antico was the only supervisor on duty. He had to simultaneously deal with the injured Williams and try to monitor his officers who were chasing the car that hit their colleague. Antico wasn’t on South A Street when the beating took place.
“He did his best as a sergeant,” Lerman said. “In a perfect world, could he have done better? Sure.” But, he insisted, Antico didn’t commit any crimes.
But, prosecutors countered, Antico betrayed the oath he took to uphold the law.
“He tarnished his badge,” Osborne said. “He tarnished the reputation of all Boynton Beach police officers. He tarnished the reputations of all the men and women who go out there and protect us each day and tell us the truth.”