Jury selection to begin for trial of current, former Boynton officers

12:00 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 Local
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s booking photo of Jeffrey Braswell, a passenger in Byron Harris’ car in August 2014 when Boynton Beach Police arrested them both. (PBSO)

Attorneys will begin jury selection Monday in federal court for the trial of a Boynton Beach police officer and two former city officers accused of excessively beating a 25-year-old man in 2014.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

After that, a Boynton police sergeant will go on trial for charges that he helped the three cover up the beatings in reports.

That trial is expected to last about one week, said Annette Lima, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

All four men were indicted together in June, but prosecutors last week filed an emergency motion asking the court to hold separate trials before U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg.

The Aug. 20, 2014 confrontation was caught on video by a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s helicopter, and the incident was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Officer Mike Brown is accused of repeatedly hitting Jeffrey Braswell with his hand that was holding his gun. He faces charges of use of a firearm during a crime of violence, and — with former officers Justin Harris and Ronald Ryan — falsification of records and deprivation of rights under color of law. Sgt. Philip Antico, the men’s supervisor that night, also faces a charge of falsification of records, plus obstruction of justice.

Brown and Antico are on paid administrative leave. Harris resigned about two years ago to operate a gym. Boynton fired Ryan in 2016 after he was found to be unfit for duty.

Harris was said to be working toward a plea deal, but as of Friday that hadn’t happened, according to court documents.

The case centers on the beating of Jeffrey Braswell, who was a passenger in a car that led police on a high-speed chase. The public heard about the confrontation because driver Byron Harris’ mugshot, with his eyes nearly closed and covered in black and blue, was shown repeatedly on television stations and in newspapers.

But the criminal charges involve only what happened to Braswell.

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Police said they saw Byron Harris, then 26, run a stop sign and later drop a bag of white powder out of the car. Braswell was sitting in the front seat, and Ashley Hill, then 18, in the back. Harris led police on a chase on Interstate 95 at speeds of up to 100 mph.

During the pursuit, Harris sideswiped officer Jeffrey Williams as he put down stop sticks. Another police officer in the chase also hit Williams, according to documents.

When Byron Harris finally stopped, at least seven officers swarmed his car, including Brown, Ryan and Harris. Officers beat and used a Taser on the three in the car while the PBSO helicopter filmed from above.

The original indictment filed in June says Harris, Brown and Ryan “assaulted J.B. during a traffic stop, by kicking and repeatedly striking J.B. with a closed fist, and by electroshocking J.B. with an X26 Taser.” It accuses Brown of omitting in a report that he used his police car to strike another car; and kicked and repeatedly punched Braswell. The complaint also says Harris did not report that he also repeatedly struck Braswell while he lay handcuffed, and that Ryan repeatedly kneed Braswell.

A superseding indictment filed this month accuses Brown of repeatedly striking Braswell “with his hand that clasped his firearm.” It also says Brown and Antico aided and abetted one another in not reporting that Brown hit Braswell with his hand that held his gun.

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