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UPD investigation finds officer guilty of battery

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Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2009 12:00 am

A sergeant with the University Police Department was asked to resign or be fired last month after an internal investigation found he was guilty of hitting and kicking a man while off duty and likely lying about his actions to avoid charges.

Sgt. Christopher Avery, who opted to resign, was charged with one count of misdemeanor battery by the State Attorney's office for the incident, which occurred in March.

The internal investigation was released last week.

In June, Avery accepted a deferred prosecution agreement with the state, a type of unsupervised probation that means he must abide by certain restrictions for six months. The charge will be dropped after six months if he has not violated the restrictions.

Michael Weaver, the other man involved in the incident, told investigators he was driving home after work around 5:40 p.m. on March 24 when Avery, not in uniform, pulled up behind him on his motorcycle and began revving his engine to get Weaver to move out of the way.

After he moved out of the way, he said he got back into his original lane. Avery noticed this and pulled into the turn lane then got back into traffic, pulled up to Weaver's car and told him to pull over, Weaver said.

After the two pulled over, Weaver said, Avery looked like he wanted to fight.

"It seem[ed] like he wanted me to take the first swing at him,"he said.

Weaver said Avery then kicked him in the groin and threw two punches, the first of which he ducked. The second punch landed between his right eye and temple.

Avery then jogged to his bike and drove off, Weaver said.

A witness recorded Avery's license plate number, according to case records.

Avery refuted Weaver's version of events, telling investigators that Weaver had been tailgating him, so he pulled into a turn lane and yelled for him to pull over so he could educate him about Florida's traffic laws.

When they pulled over, Avery said Weaver was screaming and cussing at him.

"[T]here was literally spit coming out of his mouth. He was screaming so loud,"Avery said, adding that he acted in self-defense, kicking the man once in the chest and attempting to strike him two more times with an open hand after Weaver lunged at him.

"I did what I had to do to defend myself from this guy's very aggressive attacks on me,"he said. Avery said he then left on his motorcycle in order to avoid further attacks.

But statements from three witnesses of the events on the side of the road indicated that Avery was the aggressor.

"The guy on the motorcycle just - I just felt he was going to keep beating the crap out of him,"one witness told investigators.

Avery was placed on paid leave in mid-April pending investigation results.

"I think Mr. Avery was a good cop and could be a good cop again,"said his lawyer, Huntley Johnson. "I think he used bad judgment that day, and he was having a bad day."

The investigation found that Avery "exercised extremely poor judgment"and took actions that "would lead one to believe that Sergeant Avery attempted to allude detection and then falsify the facts of the incident."

The investigation also found that although Avery notified three lieutenants about the incident, it was not immediately brought to the attention of the chief of police. As a result, UPD Lt. Robert Wagner said, the three lieutenants involved were reprimanded.

Avery's is the only case in 2009 that resulted in sustained charges against a UPD officer.

There were three in 2008, including the case of Officer Keith Smith, who was punished for his involvement in the egg-throwing incidents in the Porters neighborhood with Gainesville Police Department officers.

In another case, an officer was found to have made questionable comments to a drunken, underage student at Jennings Hall in September.

The officer was cited for inappropriate comments but was not disciplined.

Another officer received counseling, but no discipline, for being rude and aggressive during a traffic stop.

According to information provided by Lt. Wagner, complaints against UPD have fallen from 34 in 1995 to nine in 2008. He said the new police chief, Linda Stump, has a lot to do with the drop.

"This chief expects more,"he said, "and she gets more."

Welcome to the discussion.