Boynton cops fight to avoid prison terms for roles in 2014 beating

Feb 12, 2018
Boynton Beach police officer Michael Brown (left) and Sgt. Philip Antico arrive at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach for Brown’s trial. Antico was tried separately. Their sentencing hearing begins Tuesday, Feb. 13. 2018 in U.S. District Court. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Already facing the grim reality that they will be stripped of their badges, Boynton Beach police Sgt. Philip Antico and Officer Michael Brown on Tuesday will try to persuade a federal judge not to send them to prison for their roles in a 2014 beating.

The all-day hearing is to give U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg time to address myriad issues that will determine whether the two officers are put behind bars and, if so, for how long. She has said she won’t sentence either man immediately but will announce her decision at an as-yet unscheduled hearing.

Citing the two officers’ long and unblemished careers, attorneys for both men said neither should be sent to prison for their roles in the beating of Jeffrey Braswell. The unarmed 25-year-old Lake Worth man was kicked and punched after he was dragged from the passenger seat of a car that hit another Boynton Beach police officer and fled on Interstate 95 with nine officers in pursuit.

Attorney Gregg Lerman, who represents Antico, is asking Rosenberg to ignore sentencing guidelines, which recommend a maximum four-year sentence, and instead put the veteran officer on probation. Antico was convicted of obstruction of justice for lying to FBI agents, who were investigating why his officers’ initial reports made little mention of the beating, which was captured on video shot from a Palm Beach County sheriff’s helicopter.

“No purpose is served by incarcerating Antico,” Lerman wrote.

Brown’s attorney, Bruce Reinhart, is seeking house arrest for the 48-year-old widower, who is caring for his 10-year-old son and 71-year-old mother. A jury convicted Brown of violating Braswell’s civil rights and using a firearm in a crime of violence in participating in the beating of Braswell, but Rosenberg threw out the second charge, which carried a mandatory five-year sentence.

While the remaining charge carries a maximum nine-year sentence, Reinhart said Brown’s offense should be recognized for what it was: a split-second lapse of judgment.

“The offense of conviction was, at most, the momentary use of excessive force in a high-pressure, volatile situation by a decorated experienced police officer with an otherwise spotless record,” Reinhart wrote.

Federal prosecutors counter, however, that it would be an injustice to give either man a light sentence.

“For the numerous law enforcement officers in Palm Beach County who followed the trial … there is a great and particular need to send a message that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and will be punished,” wrote prosecutor Donald Tunnage, responding to Reinhart’s pleas for leniency for Brown.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Osborne made similar claims in pushing for a stiff sentence for Antico. After learning there was a video of the beating, Antico allowed his officers to revise their reports and trump up reasons they beat Braswell, the driver and another passenger in the car, she said. Then, Antico lied to FBI agents when they asked him if the initial reports had been altered.

“A probationary sentence would not reflect the seriousness of Antico’s failure to report his officers’ actions,” Osborne wrote. “Nor would a probationary sentence provide adequate deterrence to other officers who might potentially engage in similar conduct.”