Judge Tosses Case Against Driver In FL Officer Deaths
Officer David Curis (Left) and Officer Jeffrey Kocab (Right)
Tampa Bay Tribune via YellowBrix
October 29, 2010
TAMPA – A judge has dismissed the federal case against Cortnee Brantley, who authorities say was the driver during a traffic stop that left two Tampa police officers dead.
Brantley, 22, was charged with failing to report a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. She had been free on bail.
Police say Brantley was driving the 1994 Toyota Camry pulled over by Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab in East Tampa on June 29; Dontae Morris was her passenger.
Morris, 25, is charged in state court with first-degree murder in the officers’ deaths.
Authorities say Brantley drove away after the shootings and later exchanged texts with Morris.
But at a hearing today, U.S. District Judge James Moody said prosecutors had to prove Brantley acted to conceal the felony in order to support the charge.
In a seven-page order issued hours later, Moody concluded none of Brantley’s actions concealed the possession of a firearm or ammunition by Morris, a convicted felon.
Federal prosecutors haven’t decided whether to appeal.
“We’re reviewing the judge’s order at this time,” said U.S. Attorney Robert E. O’Neill.
The Hillsborough County state attorney’s office has not decided whether to charge Brantley in state court, spokesman Mark Cox said.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor badge is covered with a black and blue stripe as she addresses the media during a news conference Wednesday, June 30, 2010 in Tampa, Fla. [AP]
“We’ve been in contact with the Tampa Police Department, and we’re reviewing the case,” Cox told The Tampa Tribune.
In arguing for the federal indictment to be dismissed, defense attorney Grady Irvin said the case should be handled in state court. He contended Brantley has a Fifth Amendment right not to give authorities information about the slayings because doing so might implicate her in state crimes, such as being an accessory after the fact or tampering with evidence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston said Brantley hid the commission of a federal crime.
According to documents, Morris sent Brantley a text after the shooting telling her to “just lean bak stay loyal.”
“Of course,” responded Brantley. “Til death do us part.”
Moody ruled the texts weren’t enough to support the charge: “An act of concealment must be carried out, not merely talked about.”
Preston said Brantley removed evidence and a witness – her car and herself – from the scene. He also said the scene was disturbed when the car came in contact with the officers’ bodies.
Moody found the government presented no evidence Brantley altered, cleaned or tried to hide the car, “or even attempted to delay law enforcement in any way from locating the vehicle (other than leaving the location of the shooting).”
To support the criminal charge, the judge said at the hearing, the prosecution had to show more than the fact that Brantley failed to tell authorities about Morris.
“She’s not required to tell,” Moody said.
“Yes, she is,” Preston said. “She still has a duty to report. It’s just not a crime until there’s an act of concealment.”
When Brantley texted that she would be loyal, “she is agreeing to affirmatively conceal the crime,” Preston argued.
Moody also said Brantley’s refusal to divulge Morris’ name “is not actively concealing.”
Preston said courts have ruled that concealing a perpetrator’s identity satisfies the requirement. He said Brantley “absolutely, I’d say over 100 times, refused” to name Morris.
That’s not a crime, Moody ruled, citing the Fifth Amendment.