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Florida DL Caleb Brantley's case remains murky, as does draft stock

DT Caleb Brantley was a second-team All-SEC selection last season for the Gators, prompting him to forgo his senior year for the NFL draft.
DT Caleb Brantley was a second-team All-SEC selection last season for the Gators, prompting him to forgo his senior year for the NFL draft.
Published Apr. 25, 2017

It has been almost two weeks since former Florida defensive lineman Caleb Brantley was involved in an early morning fight near a Gainesville bar, and the situation remains murky.

It didn't get any clearer Monday, even after public statements from all parties involved. And it might not be resolved until after this week's NFL draft, where Brantley is regarded as an early round talent.

Three days after he was charged with misdemeanor battery on a complaint that he punched UF student Chelsea Austin, 20, of Summerfield in the face, Brantley's attorneys entered an innocent plea in Alachua County court.

In a statement released Monday, Brantley's legal firm — Gainesville's Johnson and Osteryoung — detailed its version of events. It said Brantley, 22, left home around 1:30 a.m. April 13 to pick up a friend. While he was waiting at a bar, some women began saying "incredibly foul" things to him after he denied one's request for an encounter. Brantley left, but Austin "stepped forward and punched him in the mouth with no warning."

"Mr. Brantley, in reaction to that sudden occurrence, put out his right arm in an attempt to push away his attacker," the statement continued. "His hand made contact with her face due to his reflex reaction."

The statement said Brantley did not previously know the woman who hit him and she did not seek medical attention at the scene.

"Mr. Brantley was not the aggressor," the statement concluded. "Mr. Brantley is the victim."

The first Gainesville Police Department report on April 13 listed Brantley that way — the victim. But GPD's sworn complaint affidavit dated four days later and filed Friday said Brantley knocked Austin unconscious and used unreasonable force that was "clearly out of retaliation and not self-defense."

Austin's attorney, North Florida Lawyers' Michael Williams, said Sunday that the first report was falsified. He clarified his stance Monday and said he didn't accuse Gainesville police of falsifying it.

Regardless, GPD public information officer Ben Tobias called the claim "simply absurd." Tobias said in a statement that the department's reports changed because detectives received more information during their investigation — a common occurrence.

"Different witnesses confirmed to detectives that the female was in fact knocked unconscious by Mr. Brantley," the statement read. "Due to this new information obtained during the course of the investigation, GPD recommended charges of misdemeanor battery to the State Attorney via a Sworn Complaint Affidavit."

And now its future rests at the State Attorney's Office.

Its attorneys are reviewing the case and will interview witnesses as they weigh whether to file formal charges against Brantley, spokesman Darry Lloyd said.

Unless the State Attorney's Office makes its decision before the NFL draft — the first round is Thursday and ends Saturday — the uncertainty could have an enormous impact on Brantley's future.

The 6-foot-3, 307-pound Brantley of Crescent City is regarded as one of the draft's top defensive tackles after his second-team All-SEC redshirt junior season.

The closest historical comparison to Brantley's situation came two years ago with LSU offensive lineman La'El Collins. The legal cases themselves are very different; Brantley is accused of a crime, while Collins was only someone police wanted to interview about the fatal shooting of a pregnant woman.

But the timing and uncertainty are similar. Because of the short timetable, teams had little time to sort through the facts surrounding Collins, who was not a suspect in the case. Collins dropped from a high first-round pick to an undrafted free agent. He signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys for a guaranteed $1.7 million and has started 14 games, despite missing most of last season with a toe injury.

If Brantley went in the middle of the second round, he would be in line for a contract of about $5 million. A Collins-like fall could cost him millions.

Will that happen? The answer isn't any clearer now than it was 24 hours ago.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com.