Legal Fallout From Antonio Brown's Burglary With Battery Charges

Antonio Brown’s problematic legal situation entered a new and decidedly more serious phase Thursday evening, as SI's legal analyst Michael McCann explains.
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Antonio Brown’s problematic legal situation entered a new and decidedly more serious phase Thursday evening.

The 31-year-old four-time All-Pro wide receiver complied with an arrest warrant by surrendering to the Hollywood (Florida) Police Department. Brown, who just four months ago was catching passes thrown by Tom Brady, faces charges for burglary with battery—a felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison—as well as burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief of less than $1,000. Following the issuance of an arrest warrant on Wednesday, Brown remained inside his house, seemingly in defiance of the warrant. Less than 48 hours later he surrendered.

Brown spent last night locked up in Broward County Jail. His attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, told media that Brown would have a bond hearing on Friday morning. This proved correct and, fortunately for Brown, his attorneys persuaded a judge to authorize his release should he post bond.

Judge allows Brown to post bond and gain his release under strict conditions

A bond hearing, also called a first appearance hearing, is presided over by a magistrate judge. Brown’s hearing occurred at about 9 a.m. on Friday. The judge formally informed Brown of the charges. Brown and his attorneys petitioned that he be released from custody, with a pledge to comply with release restrictions. The judge granted bond and, according to media reports, set it at $110,000. Brown must also consent to a mental health evaluation, submit to drug and alcohol testing, wear a GPS monitor, relinquish his passport, forgo access to firearms, avoid contact with the person he allegedly injured (a truck driver) and, most importantly, stay out of legal trouble. Brown, who posted bond in the afternoon and left the jail,  would be wise to adhere to all of these conditions. If he breaches any of them, a judge would be inclined to order him incarcerated while he awaits trial.

Brown was in a fairly strong position to be granted bond. His charges, while serious, are not of the type that typically lead to a denial of bond. In addition, Brown has no known criminal record and there are no other charges pending against him in Florida or in other states. Brown also has the financial wherewithal to pay a bond.

Two concerns for the judge in granting bond were Brown’s ability or willingness to stay out of trouble and flight risk. Brown, as explained below, has behaved erratically and irrationally in recent months. He also has the means to leave the surrounding area and indeed exit the United States. Brown’s attorneys downplay such a concern by stressing that Brown intends to defeat the charges and resume his life in Florida.

The incident that sparked the latest controversy for Brown

The charges stem from yet another abnormal and contentious incident involving one of the NFL’s most talented, and most troubled, players. At approximately 2 p.m. on Tuesday, officers received a 911 call for a disturbance at Brown’s residence in Hollywood. When they arrived at the scene, the officers met with the 911 call complainant. He is an unnamed man who serves as a driver for a moving company. According to court filings obtained by TMZ, Brown hired the company to transport his belongings from California to Florida. ESPN reports that Brown’s designer clothes and shoes were among those belongings and that Brown has waited more than six weeks for the delivery to be made.

The driver claimed that Brown—who, despite earning more than $83 million during his NFL career, has acquired a reputation for stiffing bills—initially refused to pay a $4,000 balance for the unloading. ESPN reports that Brown wasn’t expecting to pay, as an assistant whom Brown later fired had signed the transport contract. Apparently, the former assistant neglected to inform Brown that he would owe money upon delivery.

Without receiving the required payment from Brown, the driver declined to remove the belongings from the truck. He then drove off from Brown’s property. An agitated Brown is accused of throwing rocks at the truck as it left. At least one rock hit the truck, causing a dent and chipping the paint.

Upon instruction by his employer, the driver later returned to Brown’s property and Brown apparently paid the $4,000. The driver sought additional compensation for damage inflicted by the rock. Brown refused to pay this amount.

At some point, Brown allegedly entered the truck and grabbed the driver. Glenn Holt, Brown’s trainer and a former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver, is also accused of entering the truck and tussling with the driver. According to the driver, the two men forcibly tried to take his truck keys from his possession. They then managed to open the back of the truck and caused damage.

Holt was charged with burglary with battery. He surrendered to authorities Tuesday without incident. After posting a $20,000 bond, Holt was released from Broward County Jail.

The driver reportedly suffered cuts and scratches, along with a bruised shoulder and ripped clothing.

TMZ has obtained a copy of the 911 call. The driver tells the 911 operator that Brown was “high” and “absolutely on something”—in fact, Brown allegedly “smoked” drugs in front of everyone. The driver also identified Brown by name and as an NFL player. He further stressed how Brown physically threatened him.

Police waited for Brown to voluntarily surrender, most likely to de-escalate the situation

Until late Thursday evening, Brown had refused to comply with the warrant. He instead remained in his home and ignored phone calls (though he tweeted). According to a police spokesperson’s statements to the Sun-Sentinel, the police were waiting for Brown to turn himself in. The warrant, which was signed by a judge, didn’t authorize the police to forcibly enter Brown’s home to arrest him. However, once Brown left his home and crossed into a public space—such as an adjacent street or sidewalk—he could have been arrested. Obviously, police preferred that Brown surrender voluntarily, without a confrontation.

To that point, the officers likely held reservations about the prospect of confronting a recalcitrant Brown. They may have worried about his state of mind and judgment, particularly given their recent encounters with him. Those encounters involved domestic disturbance calls featuring Brown and Chelsie Kyriss, the mother of his three sons. In one recent incident, Brown engaged in a profanity-laced tirade with Hollywood officers. He recorded the tirade and uploaded it on social media.

Brown’s combative interactions with the Hollywood Police Department, along with his ill-advised desire to post videos of his interactions on social media, led a department spokesman to issue a recent statement detailing Brown’s problematic behavior. Brown, the statement reads, “has had incidents which necessitated police intervention.” The incidents include a domestic disturbance on Dec. 14 when “Mr. Brown treated [officers] with disrespect and disdain.” On Jan. 13, officers responded to another domestic disturbance at Brown’s house. Brown was “very rude and disrespectful . . . he used degrading language in front of his young children.”

Brown, the statement goes on to express, had at one time enjoyed a positive relationship with the Hollywood Police Department Police Athletic League (a youth activities program run by officers). He donated money for different causes, including a seven-on-seven football league for boys and girls. The recent incidents, however, “have caused an irreparable rift between the police department and police athletic league and Mr. Brown.” Because of this rift, the police are returning Brown’s donated money. He’s also been warned to avoid entering athletic league property “because we [do] not want him to continue to affect our youth nor influence them in a negative way.”

Details on the criminal charges

The criminal charges constitute a steep escalation in Brown’s growing legal troubles. Over the past five months, Brown been accused of a wide range of misconduct. The most serious of those accusations was levied by his former trainer, Britney Taylor. Last fall, Taylor sued Brown for sexual assault, along with other claims stemming from alleged incidents where Brown is accused of assaulting and harassing Taylor. Brown denies Taylor’s assertions and has countersued her for defamation and interference with his NFL contracts and endorsements. Brown is also accused of texting threatening messages, as well as a photo of a woman’s children, to a woman who accuses of him of misconduct. He is also involved in a custody battle with Kyriss.

While those are serious matters, none threatened Brown with the loss of his freedom. In fact, most of those matters posed the “worst case scenario” of Brown being ordered by a judge to pay another person a sum of money.

A criminal charge is a completely different creature. If Brown is convicted of committing a crime, he could be sent to jail or prison for a period of years.

Brown faces three criminal charges for his apparent altercation with the driver. The most serious of which is burglary with battery. This charge is defined in Florida Statute 810.02(2)(a). Burglary refers to entering or remaining in a home, business or vehicle with the intent to commit an offense therein. The offense therein is normally theft.

When the accused commits battery in the course of carrying out the burglary, the applicable criminal charge becomes burglary with battery. Battery refers to intentional touching or striking of another person without their consent, or the intentional causing of bodily harm to another person. Burglary with battery is a felony of the first degree under Florida law. It is punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment.

If the driver’s account is accurate, Brown arguably committed burglary by entering the truck. The fact that the belongings in the truck were owned by Brown did not grant him access to enter the truck, which obviously did not belong to Brown. This is particularly the case since the driver was likely authorized to retain the belongings until Brown had paid the amount owed. In other words, even though Brown owned the items in the truck, he likely lacked the legal right to possess them until he paid for delivery. His attempt to retrieve his items prior to payment would have therefore constituted theft.

Brown would have then committed battery by hitting, grabbing, pushing or scratching the driver, who as noted above suffered cuts and bruises in his encounter with Brown and Holt.

In addition, Brown faces charges for burglary of an unoccupied conveyance. The former refers to entering a conveyance—which under Florida law is defined as “any motor vehicle, ship, vessel, railroad vehicle or car, trailer, aircraft, or sleeping car”—with the intent to commit a crime inside. It is a third-degree felony and punishable by up to five years in prison. This type of charge often refers to a situation where a person breaks into a car to steal its contents.

Lastly, Brown is charged with criminal mischief of less than $1,000. This offense is more colloquially known as vandalism and refers to willfully and maliciously damaging another person’s property. Assuming the amount of damage is at least $200 but less than $1,000, vandalism is a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. A conviction for vandalism of this degree carries a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail.

Brown’s possible defenses

Brown is innocent until proven guilty. He and his attorneys will have an opportunity to rebut the account offered by the driver.

The narrative provided by the driver reflects the recollection of the incident that he wishes to share. The driver, Brown’s attorneys will note, is not necessarily a reliable narrator. The driver is no doubt aware that if he engaged in wrongdoing during his interaction with Brown, his employer could discipline or even fire him. The driver might also hope to sue to Brown. These factors, Brown’s attorneys will be inclined to stress, could mean that the driver exaggerated or fabricated his account.

The driver might also alter, intentionally or inadvertently, portions of his recollection should he testify under oath. Any discrepancies between what he told the 911 operator and police and what he later tells as part of the prosecution of Brown and Holt could raise questions about the accuracy of his claims.

Brown’s defense arguments could include the following:

  • He never entered the truck. If he didn’t enter it, burglary didn’t happen. Brown had every right to be on his own property. Perhaps the altercation with the driver happened outside the truck or mostly outside the truck. Maybe Brown’s residence also has surveillance camera footage that would support his defense. Unfortunately for Brown, “full entry” isn’t required for burglary. If part of his body entered the truck, he could be convicted.
  • Brown lacked any intent to commit an “offense therein.” Maybe Brown entered the truck but he didn’t intend to break the law while in it. He believed that had fully paid for the transport—as noted above, a since-fired assistant apparently didn’t warn him about the $4,000 balance—and thus lacked the intent to commit a crime.
  • Brown entered the truck only after he paid $4,000, the original amount demanded by the driver and the only amount authorized by the contract. Brown might argue he gained the right to entry, or gained the implicit consent of the driver, after making payment (O.J. Simpson tried this type of defense in the aftermath of an incident in Nevada, when he claimed he was retrieving his stuff—it didn’t work).
  • The driver lacked authorization to demand more than $4,000 from Brown. If Brown caused the truck damage, the driver should have enlisted his employer to handle that matter with Brown or his insurance company. The driver had no right to condition delivery upon Brown paying an additional amount than what was contractually owed.
  • The truck driver has grossly exaggerated what happened. There was no battery. Brown made no physical contact with the driver. He touched only the keys.
  • The truck driver was the aggressor. Maybe Brown will depict the driver as confrontational and belligerent, and that Brown was only defending himself. (I know, that seems a little hard to believe.)
  • Any damage caused was incidental rather than intentional (this would be hard to credibly argue if Brown indeed threw rocks at the truck).
  • Holt was the aggressor. Brown was only an innocent bystander who tried to calm down his friend and trainer. The driver’s account, of course, completely contradicts that depiction.

Speaking of Holt, he is an important person in Brown’s defense. Like Brown, Holt faces burglary with battery—a felony of the first degree. Prosecutors might seek to play Holt against Brown. They could offer Holt a deal whereby if he agrees to testify against Brown and to depict Brown as the mastermind, Holt’s charge could be lowered to a misdemeanor. Holt might instead remain loyal to Brown. It will be interesting to see whether his loyalty is tested with the risk of being convicted of a felony.

If Brown is ultimately convicted of the charges, he would not spend the rest of his life in prison or likely anywhere near possible maximum sentences. He would be a first-time offender. Another factor in Brown’s favor: The alleged victim, the driver, doesn’t appear to have suffered lasting injuries.

However, a convicted Brown could be ordered to spend a period of years behind bars. That in itself makes the situation extremely worrisome for Brown. His money and fame aren’t going to be enough to prevent incarceration. He needs to offer a persuasive defense or reach a plea deal with prosecutors where the charges are lowered and Brown avoids a lengthy sentence (or possibly any sentence—he could instead face some combination of a suspended sentence, probation, community service, paying a fine and house arrest).

A return for Brown to the NFL has become even more improbable

Even if Brown ultimately prevails in his defense against the criminal charges, it will likely take months, and possibly longer, for that to occur.

It’s hard to imagine an NFL team would be interested in signing Brown during this upcoming period where he’ll be accused of committing felonies. Teams were already deterred by his numerous other issues, including a rape lawsuit, as well as by the likely prospect of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell rendering Brown unavailable to play. Adding “accused felon” to the list only makes Brown less employable.

Brown will also turn 32 in July. While 32 is still “young” in a general sense, it isn’t for an NFL wide receiver. Brown runs the risk of his legal issues deterring teams from signing him while his elite skills slowly diminish due to age.

Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and the Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.