Antonio Morrison charges dropped

Updated: July 23, 2013, 7:19 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The state attorney's office has dismissed charges against Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison, who was arrested early Sunday morning after allegedly barking at a police dog and resisting arrest.

State attorney William Cervone said Tuesday that he made the decision after watching police video of the arrest. He believed Morrison did not do anything that warranted being arrested and that pursuing charges would be inappropriate.

"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," Cervone said. "The charge of interfering with a police animal requires malice, and none exists. lt 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."

Cervone also said that Alachua County Sheriff's officer William A. Arnold should have used better judgment in the situation even if, as he said on the video, he was frustrated at what happened.

"In my office, I teach and we attempt to practice restraint," Cervone said. "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 abuse, even when one's patience is thin. After nearly 40 years as a prosecutor l 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."

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell agreed with Cervone and said Arnold shouldn't have arrested Morrison.

"Our deputies deal with chaotic situations daily and have to make quick, on-the-spot decisions," Darnell said in a statement. "While I believe the deputy's actions were technically correct, due to the obscure nature of the law a warning would have been more appropriate."

According to an Alachua County Sheriff's Office report, Arnold responded to a suspicious incident and disturbance call at 3:43 a.m. ET Sunday at a Gainesville hotel adjacent to an after-hours sports bar. While Arnold was investigating the vehicle that was the subject of the call, one of a group of several men walking along the street approached Arnold's patrol car and began barking at his police dog through the open window.

The report said that caused the dog, named Bear, to bark back at the man, which Arnold says in his report diverted his attention from investigating the vehicle. The report says Arnold told the man -- later identified by his driver's license as Morrison -- to wait in front of his patrol car, and the man resisted when Arnold tried to handcuff him. Two other officers arrived and helped detain Morrison.

That was Morrison's second arrest in five weeks, and Florida coach Will Muschamp announced Sunday morning that Morrison -- a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore expected to be the Gators' starting middle linebacker this season -- was suspended and would miss at least the first two games.

"As of now nothing has changed with Antonio's discipline status," Muschamp said in a statement Tuesday.

Morrison was arrested on June 16 and charged with battery after he punched a nightclub bouncer because he was not given a discounted rate for admission. Morrison entered into a deferred prosecution agreement for that arrest that stated he must pay $100 in prosecution costs and also must pay an additional $150 or perform 12 hours of community service. He must also complete a University of Florida drug and alcohol abuse course, attend an anger management course, and participate in two eight-hour ride-alongs with the University of Florida Police Department.

If Morrison met those conditions within six months, the battery charge would be dismissed.

Cervone said Morrison's agreement is still valid and would not be revoked.

"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," Cervone said. "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 l leave to Sheriff Darnell dealing with any training issues or questions about handling problem locations and events of this sort."

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter

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