The State Attorney’s Office officially announced Tuesday that a pair of misdemeanor charges levied against Florida Gators sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison for barking at a police dog and resisting arrest without violence have been dropped.
Morrison was arrested early Sunday morning under a violation of Florida Statute 843.19 for offenses against police animals. He added a charge of resisting arrest without violence for not expeditiously allowing the arresting officer to handcuff him. The charges were second- and first-degree misdemeanors, respectively.
He was subsequently suspended for the first two games of the season by Gators head coach Will Muschamp later that morning.
“I’m extremely disappointed in Antonio Morrison’s decision making,” he said. “He has been suspended from the team and will miss at least two games to begin the season.”
According to the police report, Morrison was in a “group of several males” that was walking on Southwest 13th Street when they approached a K9 police car that was stopped to investigate a white vehicle called in following a “suspicious incident and disturbance” at an “after-hours business.”
Morrison then “walked up to the open window of my marked patrol vehicle, stopped and made barking sounds in the window where my K9 partner Bear was located,” according to the arresting officer. “K9 Bear immediately began barking at Antonio, diverting his attention from my investigation and towards him.”
When the officer attempted to handcuff Morrison in front of his vehicle, he questioned why he was being arrested, which the officer considered resistance.
“Antonio spontaneously stated several times that he made a ‘woof-woof’ sound at the dog because the dog barked at him,” according to the arresting officer.
However, state attorney Bill Cervone said later in the day that upon his “initial review” of the incident, he was “concerned about the legality of the arrest.”
On Monday, video of the arrest was released by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, casting even greater doubt that the charges would hold up.
Morrison’s attorney, Huntley Johnson, told multiple members of the media prior to the dismissal of the charges that he was confident both would be dropped. He told Florida Today’s David Jones that the arrest was “overzealous to the point it was embarrassing.”
Cervone explained in a statement why the state decided to drop the charges:
Having reviewed the law and the evidence, specifically including the video of what occurred, I have today filed a dismissal of all charges against Antonio Morrison related to his arrest on July 21 for interfering with a police dog and resisting an officer. This dismissal is based on the lack of evidence to warrant much less legally sustain those charges and the complete inappropriateness of pursuing court action against Morrison, or anyone else, under the circumstances involved.
To be fair, law enforcement officers are not lawyers or fully aware of what the courts require. Nonetheless, and fair or not, their decisions must meet those standards. The charge of interfering with a police animal requires malice, and none exists. It also requires that the animal be engaged in some official duty, and it cannot be said that sitting in the back of a police cruiser in case he is needed constitutes being engaged in such activity by a police dog. As to the charge of resisting an officer, I challenge anyone who looks at the video of the incident to find any resistance, physical or otherwise, beyond questioning the actions of law enforcement, which is not illegal. Certainly, I see nothing that would allow or persuade a jury to convict.
In taking this action I wish to commend Sheriff Sadie Darnell for her comments about this situation as reported in the media. Those comments are candid, responsible, and appropriate. I disagree only as to whether any crime occurred. In my view, no arrest should have been made in this case, whether technically sustainable or not. In my office, I teach and we attempt to practice restraint. The power to do something as profound as depriving another person of liberty and subjecting him to all of the consequences of an arrest or prosecution cannot be abused, even when one’s patience is thin. After nearly 40 years as a prosecutor I understand the pressures that officers on the street deal with. Those pressures simply cannot be allowed to override common sense and the law, as they may have in this situation.
Finally, and to answer other question that may be asked, Morrison’s deferral agreement in his previous case will remain in effect. Because his arrest and potential prosecution for this new incident are in my view legally inappropriate there are no grounds to revoke that agreement. To anyone suggesting that he has received special treatment due to his status, I would say review the police video and associated reports. Doing so with an unbiased, legally rigorous analysis can only lead to the conclusions I’ve reached. I would expect that Morrison has learned that being out at that hour of the night under those circumstances is setting himself up for a situation where he could risk and lose a great deal. However, counseling him about where he was and whatever he was doing is not the function of my office. I can only concern myself with his criminal culpability, of which there is none. The rest I leave to Coach Muschamp, as I leave to Sheriff Darnell dealing with any training issues or questions about handling problem locations and events of this sort.
Because the initial charge of harassing a police animal was dismissed, the subsequent charge of resisting arrest without violence would have been as well even if Cervone thought the action occurred (which he did not).
Either charge may have violated Morrison’s six-month probation, which he received as part of a deferred prosecution agreement after being charged with simple battery for punching a bouncer five weeks ago.
It is unknown if Muschamp will eventually reduce Morrison’s suspension, though he did mention on Tuesday that he did not suspend Morrison simply for being arrested a second time in five weeks.
“I’ve suspended him from all team activities at this point,” Muschamp said on ESPN‘s SportsCenter. “It’s all about making good choices and decisions. He made a poor choice and decision to be out at three o’clock in the morning, and that’s No. 1 with me. But we’ll bring him back in camp, and we’ll work through this process with him. Again, it’s about educating young people, and they got to understand, when they make these mistakes, there are consequences in our program.”
Later Tuesday, Muschamp released the following statement through the school: “As of now, nothing has changed with Antonio’s discipline status.”