Charges against Morrison dropped, but suspension stands
Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.
The State Attorney's Office has dropped charges against University of Florida football player Antonio Morrison, who was arrested early Sunday morning on charges of interfering with a police animal.
Despite charges being dropped, Florida coach Will Muschamp released a statement Tuesday night that "as of now" Morrison's disciplinary status will remain the same.
After his arrest Sunday, Morrison was suspended for UF's first two games of the 2013 season, including a Sept. 7 showdown at rival Miami.
The move to drop the charges against Morrison was expected after State Attorney Bill Cervone on Sunday indicated concern with the sufficiency of evidence to constitute a crime.
"The 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,'' Cervone said in a statement Tuesday.
"The charge of interfering with a police animal requires malice, and none exists. ... As to the charge of resisting an officer, I challenge anyone who looks at the video of the incident to find any resistance besides questioning the actions of law enforcement, which is not illegal.''
Gainesville attorney Huntley Johnson, representing Morrison, agreed that evidence was lacking.
"I would say there was no evidence," Johnson said. "The actions of the police were embarrassing."
Morrison was arrested by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office outside the All Star Sports Bar on Southwest 13th Street near Williston Road, a bar and grill that can stay open until 4 a.m. as long as it stops serving alcohol at 2 a.m.
The bar has been the scene of hundreds of police calls in recent months, mostly dealing with issues in the large crowds that congregate outside the bar at nearby parking areas.
Deputy William Arnold arrested Morrison at around 2:45 a.m. after Morrison barked at the K9 officer Bear while Arnold was responding to a call about an assault outside the bar.
Morrison was arrested on two misdemeanor charges, harassing a police animal and resisting arrest without violence. He was released from the Alachua County jail on Sunday afternoon.
Cervone said the charge of interfering with a police animal is rare -- about 40 cases have been filed in the last 10 to 12 years.
The cases generally fall into two categories -- people, often when downtown bars close, will slap or punch police horses or people who have been stopped by a police dog will punch or kick it.
When the cases are pursued, they are often resolved with deferred prosecution agreements, Cervone said.
But Muschamp still thought that Morrison's lapse in judgment in his second arrest in the span of two months warranted punishment.
Asked about Morrison's arrest Tuesday morning on ESPN's First Take, Muschamp said: "Just disappointed. You're a father figure to all these young men. You got 85 guys on scholarship; you got another 20-25 walk-ons, over 100 kids. You're responsible for those kids. And it's your job to educate them and make sure they're making good choices and decisions. They're not all going to make good choices and decisions, unfortunately. They're not always going to have great judgment. That doesn't make them a bad person.
"Antonio Morrison is a great young man. He's been raised right. Anthony and Valentine, his parents, are wonderful people. As a matter of fact, I was on the phone with them last night. He just had some poor judgment in that situation. Nothing good happens after midnight. He made a poor decision to be out at 3 o'clock in the morning."
This was the second arrest for Morrison in recent weeks.
He was arrested by Gainesville police after an incident June 16 outside the Kava Bar & Hookah Lounge at 1007 W. University Ave.
Police officers said Morrison got into an argument with a bouncer who refused to waive the cover charge for Morrison. He hit the bouncer with his fist on top of the head, according to police.
Morrison was subsequently offered a deferred prosecution that required him to pay $100 in fines, perform community service hours, attend a drug and alcohol program and anger management classes, and take part in two eight-hour ride-alongs with UF police.
Cervone said in the statement that the deferral agreement in that 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,'' he said.
"To anyone suggesting that he has received special treatment due to his status, I would say review the police video and associated reports. ... 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 also had strong words for the arresting deputy.
"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.''