TAMPA — Federal prosecutors are appealing the dismissal of a seldom-used criminal charge against the girlfriend of the man accused of gunning down two Tampa police officers.
Cortnee Brantley, 22, was accused of not telling authorities she knew Dontae Morris was a felon who illegally had a loaded gun the night Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were killed.
She was charged with misprision of a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison.
But U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. ruled the government had not shown, as the law requires, that Brantley not only knew about the gun but took some specific act to conceal it.
To the contrary, Moody told prosecutors he did not see an act of concealment in the evidence. He dismissed the charge Oct. 28.
Prosecutors filed notice Wednesday they are taking the case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
"We are not saying that the court's ruling was flawed," U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "We maintain, however, that the facts as set forth by the government are sufficient to establish the charged offense. The court disagreed, and we are now asking the appellate court to decide the dispute."
In a statement, Brantley's attorney, Grady Irvin Jr., described Moody's decision as well reasoned and said he was "both disappointed and at a total loss as to why our federal government would choose to do this on the day before Thanksgiving."
Morris, 25, was a passenger in Brantley's Toyota when Curtis pulled the car over June 29. Morris killed Curtis and Kocab, a backup officer, then ran away, police say. Brantley drove off.
Moody wrote in a seven-page decision that the actions prosecutors cited as evidence to support the misprision of a felony charge against Brantley did not add up to concealment.
After the shootings, Morris sent Brantley a text message saying "just lean bak stay loyal," according to authorities. She responded, "Of course. … Til death do us part."
That didn't demonstrate an act of concealment about Morris having a gun, Moody concluded. The same goes for the fact that the two talked on the phone after the shootings.
Finally, prosecutors said Brantley would not tell detectives who the passenger in her car was, refusing to answer the question more than 100 times.
But Moody ruled Brantley had a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer such questions.
Hillsborough State Attorney's Office spokesman Mark Cox would not comment Wednesday on whether that agency planned to charge Brantley in state court. Previously, he has said the investigation is active.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.