The State Attorney's Office dismissed the battery case against Browns rookie and former Gators defensive lineman Caleb Brantley on Wednesday after investigators found "no reliable evidence" to support a complaint that he knocked a woman unconscious last month.
The decision came after a one-month investigation into an early-morning Gainesville altercation between Brantley and University of Florida student Chelsea Austin.
The first Gainesville Police Department report listed Brantley as the victim and said he tried to push Austin away after she struck him. Four days later, police issued a second report accusing Brantley of punching Austin and knocking her unconscious.
The State Attorney's Office cited several reasons for siding with Brantley and dropping the misdemeanor battery complaint.
In a press release, prosecutors said Austin and witnesses who testified on her behalf had been drinking that night and provided contradictory testimony. Austin first denied being assaulted, then couldn't remember much, if anything, about it. Neutral witnesses also supported Brantley's story — that he pushed her out of the way after she punched him.
Austin's attorneys said last month that her injuries from the fight resulted in "extensive medical treatment." But investigators said she was not seriously hurt and that "any injury she sustained is relatively minor and inconsistent with any great force having been used against her."
"In essence," the State Attorney's Office said, "the facts suggest that the alleged victim's friends engaged Brantley in an unpleasant verbal exchange, during which the alleged victim began to physically punch or assault Brantley, causing him to shove her away."
That shove was also legal under the state's Stand Your Ground Law, the State Attorney's Office said. The fact that Brantley is listed at 6-2, 307 pounds and Austin weighs less than 130 does not change his right to self-defense.
"I'm grateful for (Wednesday's) ruling," Brantley said in a statement issued by the Browns. "I won't take the opportunity the Browns have given me for granted and now I can shift all my focus on working hard to make this football team while also showing my teammates, coaches, the organization and this community the type of person I really am."
Although the case was eventually dropped, the weeks of uncertainty hurt the NFL draft stock of the former second-team all-SEC selection.
Brantley was projected as an early-round pick but fell to the Browns with the first pick of the sixth round in last month's draft. He's line for a $2.6 million contract — less than half of the $5.8 million his former teammate, cornerback Quincy Wilson, should get as a second-round pick, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks salary information.
Cleveland executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown told reporters after the pick that Brantley's future was uncertain, depending on what investigators found.
"Caleb understands that we have an expectation and standard for every member of our organization," Brown said in a statement Wednesday. "He's a talented young man with a great opportunity in front of him. Caleb must grow as a person from this situation. He is now able to move forward and focus on earning a spot on this roster."
Brantley's attorneys — Gainesville law firm Johnson and Osteryoung — praised the State Attorney's Office for its "thorough investigation into this case."
Austin's attorney, Tallahassee's Brandi Thomas, said her client still suffers "significant" physical and emotional injuries because of the incident.
"Ms. Austin will consider other options to legally pursue justice," Thomas said.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTime.