Historic City News has spent the last two days reviewing photographs, statements and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office incident report following an outburst at the end of a Town Hall meeting held in the County Auditorium on Monday evening.
According to the Sheriff’s report, Cindy Falco-Dicorrado, a local minister, was observed by Corporal Henry Crafton as she approached St. Johns County Commissioner Ken Bryan and his wife who were seated near the rear of the auditorium during a question-and-answer period.
A “verbal exchange” ensued, allegedly over an issue of constitutionality; during which Reverend Falco handed a printed copy of the U. S. Constitution in pamphlet form to Commissioner Bryan and his wife Lauren Spicer Bryan.
Crafton reported that he witnessed Commissioner Bryan “immediately return” the pamphlet to Reverend Falco. At that time, according to Crafton, Bryan’s wife and Reverend Falco got into an argument. Commissioner Bryan told Crafton that his wife was “accosted” and asked Crafton to remove Reverend Falco from the meeting.
Once outside the meeting, Reverend Falco told Crafton that Commissioner Bryan had thrown the Constitution on the ground. Crafton reports that Reverend Falco was “visibly upset” and told him Commissioner Bryan said “he did not believe in the Constitution.”
Eric West, the chairman of the St. Augustine Tea Party, told Historic City News that he heard the Constitution “hit the floor” and was distracted by the loud exchange between Bryan, his wife, and Reverend Falco.
West says that as he saw Reverend Falco being escorted out, he approached Commissioner Bryan and asked him, repeatedly, if he felt such an outburst in a government meeting was the way he wanted the public to see him.
“Bryan became hostile, pointing his finger at me in a threatening manner,” West said. “At one point he was screaming at me — only inches from my face. I was and still am shocked that an elected public official would turn violent because of an argument with a voter.”
Photographs and a video were captured by a private citizen who was in attendance at the meeting. Those images were forwarded to Historic City News today. It is clear, from the photographs that at one point, the 62 year-old, 6′ tall commissioner, was aggressively engaging 46 year-old, 5’11” Eric West; pointing his finger, waving a red folder, with his mouth open wide and his wife pushing against his chest to restrain him. West does not appear to move or make any threatening gestures towards Bryan — he is standing in front of Bryan with his hands rested on his hips.
Sheriff’s Commander Thomas Quintieri escorted West out of the meeting. Commander Samuel Williams, along with Corporal Crafton, talked to West about laying his hands on Bryan. Crafton’s account of what happened next is denied by West.
Crafton reported that West, “did not mention any injuries and did not advise Commissioner Bryan had struck him.” West told Historic City News today that, in fact, when he touched Commissioner Bryan’s arm, it was to settle him down and calm him. Crafton’s report says that West “grabbed” Bryan’s arm; which remains in dispute.
West also says that upon touching Bryan’s arm, Bryan responding by striking him.
Historic City News Editor Michael Gold went to the County Administration building for a statement from County Administrator Michael Wanchick, who was conducting the Town Hall meeting; however, Wanchick was unavailable, as was Communication Manager Karen Pan.
Pan, who was taking notes for administrative staff during Monday’s meeting, did contact Gold today to report her observations. Pan was sitting close to the front of the auditorium — near Wanchick and the court reporter.
“I could see that there was a crowd gathering at the rear of the auditorium, but, from my seat, I could not hear what was being said,” Pan told Historic City News. She did say that all five St. Johns County Commissioners attended the meeting, although she was not certain if all five were still in the auditorium when the disturbance occurred — about 9:45 p.m. She recalls seeing Commissioner Mark Miner walking to the back of the meeting where the incident was taking place.
“All of the Town Hall meetings have been standing-room-only,” Pan said, estimating Monday night’s attendance at about 153 citizens. “This meeting had the largest attendance; we had about 90-100 at some of the other meetings.”
The .75 mil increase that Wanchick anticipates recommending to the Commission has been very controversial and drawn critical response from St. Augustine Tea Party members and other advocates of lowering government spending.
So far, Monday night’s meeting was the first meeting where Bryan or his wife had gotten into an altercation with citizens who have objected to the County Administrator’s plan.
Pan said that the final speakers of the night continued to ask their questions unabated by the disturbance going on sixty or seventy feet behind them.
West told Historic City News that he is taking the disputed facts to the Sheriff for a resolution.
Karen Pan was asked if the County Administrator would release a statement on the matter, she told us that she doesn’t believe that he will.
Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Sergeant Charles E. Mulligan told Historic City News that, officially, the investigation is still open as deputies collect remaining witness statements. A final supplemental report is expected at that time.
We contacted Ken Bryan, allowing him an opportunity to respond and rebut any misstatements; at both his County and personal e-mail addresses, with a copy to the County’s Communications Manager. No response has been forthcoming from Bryan.
Government TV staff told us that, because of conflicting broadcast of the St. Augustine City Commission meeting, the meeting was not taped or broadcast, however, Historic City News has learned that security surveillance cameras in the auditorium were on and a DVD of the incident was created. The DVD has been turned over to the Sheriff’s Office as evidence and when they close their case, Historic City News will be provided a copy.
A separate video was captured by a private citizen using a cell phone camera, with audio, and Historic City News should have a copy this evening. We will publish more information about that as it is provided
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph