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Former St. Johns County deputy found not guilty on aggravated battery charges

Deleo was facing charges for an incident during a 2019 traffic stop. He had been accused of brutally beating an unarmed naked man.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A former St. Johns County Sheriff's Deputy who was charged in connection with an incident during a 2019 traffic stop has been found not guilty.

A jury Wednesday found Anthony Deleo not guilty on charges of aggravated battery. He had been accused of brutally beating an unarmed naked man with a baton.

Judge Smith gave the jury instructions on how to proceed with the deliberation around 11:30 a.m. They returned the verdict shortly after 2:30 p.m.

Responding to the jury verdict this afternoon, State Attorney R.J. Larizza commented:

"We take no pleasure in prosecuting a veteran Law Enforcement Officer for excessive use of force, but based on the circumstances, we believed it was the appropriate thing to do. The jury worked hard to reach a verdict in a difficult case, and we respect and appreciate their efforts."

The jury was finalized Monday and heard opening arguments at least until Wednesday.

Deleo was a St. Johns County sheriff's deputy at the time, assisting a Florida Highway Patrol Trooper. The man who was pulled over was 30-year-old Christopher Butler. 

Deleo was fired that following January, and the St. Johns County Sheriff Office filed charges against him for aggravated battery.

RELATED: Former St. Johns County deputy turns himself in for aggravated battery incident

A warrant affidavit states Deleo was assisting a Florida Highway Patrol trooper with a traffic stop on a vehicle for failure to yield around 1:15 a.m. on Dec. 29, in the Winn Dixie shopping center at 2220 County Road 210. 

Deleo approached the vehicle and tried to pull Butler from the car, according to the warrant.

The warrant says once Butler was out of the car, several officers started yelling at him to get on the ground, but he instead stood up, facing away from the officers "in a non-threatening manner." Deleo then struck Butler with his baton and the trooper shocked him with a Taser while Butler walked away from the officers, according to the warrant.

Video shows Deleo hitting Butler 19 times with his baton and kicked him in the head and face for the next three minutes and 44 seconds, the warrant says.

 At the time, Butler was naked and unarmed.

“It’s very hard to believe it’s 2021 and police brutality is still going running rapid in our nation and I guess it doesn’t matter," said Butler's mother, Teri Morgenstern. 

Story continues below.

The warrant says Deleo made little to no effort to handcuff Butler, while video shows Butler offering little to no resistance while seated "in a non-threatening manner."

Butler was taken to the hospital for injuries consistent with the strikes captured on video, the warrant says.

“The man that beat him just walked free but if that would’ve been you or me we would be in prison but we’re not cops though so it doesn’t matter does is," said Morgenstern. 

Chris Jackson, Butler’s attorney says while this may be disappointing result.

“I think the video is compelling its not everyday that you see a young person caught on video that vividly getting beat up by a police officer," said Jackson.

Second chair prosecutor Spencer Hathaway said in court Monday Butler has limited use of his arm from the incident. Hathaway admitted Butler was high on cough medicine but said this didn't warrant a "brutal attack."

Defense attorney Terry Shoemaker said Butler did not cooperate with deputies, would not leave his vehicle, and then tried to kick and spit at them.

RELATED: Trial begins for former St. Johns County deputy charged with aggravated battery

RELATED: Driver speaks out after reportedly being beaten by St. Johns County deputy during traffic stop