Four days after Boynton Beach Police Officer Michael Brown was convicted of two federal charges for using excessive force in an August 2014 arrest, his supervisor on Monday went on trial in U.S. District Court on charges that he helped Brown and other cops hide their misdeeds.
In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Osborne told a jury that Sgt. Philip Antico helped officers falsify their reports and then lied when FBI agents questioned him about it. Each charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
“He tried to take care of his officers,” she said. “He covered up what his officers did.”
Defense attorney Gregg Lerman countered that Antico was simply doing his job. The sergeant was on vacation for seven days after the arrest of three people who were in a car that clipped Officer Jeffrey Williams, who was subsequently run over by another officer. The car then led nine officers on a nearly 20-mile chase on Interstate 95 from Boynton to West Palm Beach to Lake Worth.
When Antico returned from vacation, he looked at the nine officers’ reports and realized most had left out details of the arrests, Lerman said. Antico rejected reports from officers who forgot to mention that they had kicked and punched car driver Byron Harris and passengers Jeffrey Braswell and Ashley Hill. After their lapses were pointed out, they updated their reports.
“The changes made the reports more accurate,” Lerman told jurors. “How is that a crime?”
However, Osborne said, the changes were made after Antico learned that the officers’ actions had been captured by an infrared video camera in a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that had been summoned to help the officers track the fleeing car.
“He reviewed the video and allowed his people to make changes,” Osborne said. Later, he declared that the force his officers used was justified given the circumstances.
Showing the jury photos taken of Harris, Braswell and Hill after the arrest, Osborne questioned whether the injuries backed up those claims. While Hill’s injuries aren’t apparent in her photo, Braswell’s face was bruised and bloodied and Harris’ eyes were swollen shut and his head bandaged.
“Four officers push and shove each other out of the way to get a chance to beat the driver,” she said, referring to what the video shows officers doing after they dragged Harris from his car. “They Tase him. They kick him and they beat him.”
Three of the witnesses who testified Monday — PBSO helicopter pilot Sgt. Michael Musto, Boynton Beach Police Chief Jeffrey Katz and Boynton training Sgt. Sedrick Aiken — also testified in the trial that ended Thursday with the conviction of Brown and the acquittal of former officers Ronald Ryan and Justin Harris.
All three witnesses again voiced unease about what they had seen on the video. Aiken and Katz said they were also concerned that officers didn’t divulge that they had used force nor explained why in their reports.
During this trial, however, key testimony in the prosecution’s case is to come from Antico himself. Osborne said the jury will hear parts of his four-hour interview with FBI agents, who Katz asked to investigate after he said he realized the video didn’t jibe with the officers’ reports.
While Osborne said Antico lied to agents about his actions, Lerman insisted the sergeant simply had little memory of what happened when he returned from vacation and reviewed the reports. Listen closely, Lerman advised jurors. “You’ll hear, ‘I don’t know. I don’t remember.’” he said. “His intent was not to mislead them. He doesn’t have the tools available to remember what happened accurately.”
The trial is expected to wrap up this week. A different federal jury deliberated for two days last week after a weeklong trial before acquitting Harris and Ryan of wrongdoing. It convicted Brown of deprivation of rights under color of law and use of a firearm during a crime of violence for holding his service weapon in the same hand he used to punch Braswell. He faces a maximum 15-year sentence in prison.
Brown was allowed to remain free on bond and no sentencing date has been set.