Antonio Morrison created headlines early Sunday morning when news broke that he was arrested under Florida statute 843.19.4 for allegedly harassing a police dog that was aiding an officer in an active investigation.
The statute reads: “Any person who intentionally or knowingly maliciously harasses, teases, interferes with, or attempts to interfere with a police dog, fire dog, SAR dog, or police horse while the animal is in the performance of its duties commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.”
The arrest came just five weeks after Morrison was arrested for simple battery in a dispute at Kava Bar and Hookah Lounge in downtown Gainesville. Morrison agreed to a deferred prosecution in that case with an understanding that if he completed the requirements set in place by the Alachua County courts, the case would be dismissed. Another arrest would certainly not be in compliance with the court agreement for deferred prosecution, and could result in those charges being brought back up against the sophomore linebacker.
However, the Alachua County Sherriff’s department released the dashboard camera video today, which captured both audio and video of Morrison’s arrest prompting Sherriff Sadie Darnell to say that the arresting deputy should have given the 19-year old Morrison a warning rather than arresting him according to Maru I. Opabola of the Gainesville Sun.
While the audio is hard to hear in the video, Morrison can clearly be seen walking past a patrol car and being stopped by Deputy William Arnold. The video does not pick up Morrison allegedly barking at the K-9 like the arrest report says. Arnold is seen grabbing Morrison by the arm with another deputy and detaining him against the hood of a vehicle. The video shows Morrison turning his head to speak with the deputies, but it is unclear what action Morrison committed to warrant an additional charge of resisting arrest without violence.
As Morrison is moved from the front of the car to the backseat, we are able to begin to hear the conversation between Morrison and what is presumably the arresting officer, Deputy Arnold.
Morrison is heard repeatedly asking the officer to let him go saying, “Officer please let me go. I’m not looking for any trouble.” To which the officer replied, “Why are you acting this way?” Telling Morrison that he was not cooperating with the deputies on the scene.
At this point of the video, it becomes clear that the officer has lost patience with the situation. The arresting officer can be heard on the recording thanking another officer on the scene saying, “I appreciate you being there, he was getting to be a handful.” The officer continued, “Yeah, my patience is pretty thin.”
Other than turning around to speak with the officer who had grabbed him by the arm and brought him over to the police vehicle, what actions in this video depict Morrison being a handful or overtly resisting arrest?
As tape continues to roll, two officers can be heard speaking about Morrison with one of the officers asking, “You know who that is right? He plays middle linebacker for the University of Florida.” The officer who recognized Morrison continued, “He just got arrested like three weeks ago for a fight downtown.”
The officers continue talking about the football player, noting that there was a coach who called his cell phone. “Muschamp?” one officer asked. “No it wasn’t that, it was Coach something on his call log,” the other officer responded. “Let me look him up, because he plays for Florida.”
More than 30 minutes after first making contact with Morrison, Arnold is again heard on the recording telling Morrison, “Let me simply explain something to you. I’ve been listening to you for a few minutes and here’s the problem I got with this, alright?” Arnold said. “My dog is watching my back and their back. Stop talking. When you walk up to the window and say something to him, you distract him if I need him. So if I open my door remotely with this push button, he’s coming out to you and not to me when I need him. That’s the end of the story. That’s interfering, harassment and teasing a police dog while he’s engaged in his duty. That’s what you’re being arrested for. Alright?”
Morrison was brought to Alachua County Jail and booked with two misdemeanors before being released on his own recognizance. Despite this being Morrison’s second offense in as many months, state attorney Bill Cervone told Gator Country on Monday morning that he had some questions based on the arrest report and wording of the specific statute. Cervone stressed that the statute Morrison was allegedly violating is worded very precisely and that he would need to read it again to fully understand how Morrison’s actions were in violation of the law.
Cervone told Gator Country that based on the way that the statute is worded, it may be hard to press charges based on the evidence that he had seen at the time. Cervone said that it could take a day or two for him to interview all the parties involved and decide whether the state will pursue charges in this case.
Speaking with an attorney who was privy to the arrest report, and who had also watched the video of the arrest, I was told that in this attorney’s opinion, these charges would, and should, be dropped.
If these charges were to be dropped, the terms of Morrison’s deferred prosecution would not be violated. Morrison has already completed the community service portion of the agreement, but he still needs to complete the necessary classes, as well as, what should be a very interesting ride along with an officer following these two incidents.
With both Sheriff Darnell and state attorney Cervone coming out and publicly questioning the merit of the arrest, as well as the discretion of the arresting officer, one must wonder if this is an event we should have even heard about.
The University of Florida, Will Muschamp and Antonio Morrison were embarrassed on Sunday due to the arrest, but the Alachua County Sherriff’s office and Bill Arnold should be embarrassed following the release of the arrest video.
Should Morrison have made what he described as a “woof-woof” noise at he K-9? No. Did the action warrant the force the officers used to detain Morrison resulting in charging him with two misdemeanors and forcing him to sit in a jail cell for a night? Absolutely not.