With twelve days until the 2016 General Election, another incident reported to Historic City News at the Southeast Branch of the St Johns County Public Library — but this time, it became violent.
We reported this morning on alleged voter intimidation at the early voting precinct after responding to a voice mail message, speaking with a witness, and later, Vicky Oakes, St Johns County Supervisor of Elections. So far, we were told, the extent of confrontations have been outside of her jurisdiction and have amounted to shouting, name calling, and heated political rhetoric.
However tonight, we spoke with Merrill Paul Roland from his room at Flagler Hospital where he reports to be suffering from a concussion and some internal injuries received during a fistfight at the hands of Eric West, a leader in the Republican Party of St Johns County.
Roland is a candidate on the ballot for election to the Anastasia Mosquito Control District, Seat 1. He is a registered Republican, but the office he is seeking is non-partisan. The 62-year-old Roland is handicapped; he has a prosthetic leg. His opponent is Gina Le Blanc of Elkton. She is also a registered Republican.
At issue in this confrontation is an “Election Guide” published by the local Republican Executive Committee. Eric West is the Recording Secretary of that political organization. He is 52-years-old and in good physical condition.
Thursday at about 1:43 p.m., Roland sent an e-mail message to the Party leadership and news media complaining that the Executive Committee had no business endorsing one Republican candidate over another Republican candidate for the same seat in a General Election because he says it violates Party rules governing endorsements. The local Committee endorsed Le Blanc.
“You have produced a Voter Guide, which you have e-mailed to the Voters. You have volunteers handing the Voter Guide to the participants at the Trump Rally at the amphitheater,” Roland wrote in the e-mail. “Now, I have witnessed your volunteers hand this Voter Guide out at the Early Voting locations, I have video of this!”
Roland demanded the Executive Committee of the St Johns County Republican Party to either add his name to the Voter Guide or “stop printing and distributing only my opponents name immediately.”
West was not included in the e-mail distribution received by Historic City News, but Roland believes West received a copy of his demand either from Bob Smith or Gary Howell who were in the distribution.
In any event, Roland reports that he had been at the library for a couple of hours politicking voters outside the 100-foot buffer zone from the actual polling location inside. He says it was without incident until West arrived.
Roland said that West was bringing more Election Guides to the precinct for distribution and he told West he wanted to discuss his grievance. Roland said West became enraged and spit directly in his face. Before Roland could defend himself, he said West repeatedly struck him in the head and shoulder, kicking away his cane and knocked him to the ground, where the beating continued. When West stopped beating him, Roland said West went back to his white Ford Mustang, got in, and drove away before law enforcement arrived.
From his hospital bed, Roland recalled the incident. “It was not necessary to hit me — I was not being aggressive, violent, or abusive,” he wrote. “He wouldn’t stop punching me. He beat me and burned rubber.”
The investigation is continuing. Roland says he signed a criminal complaint against West for the battery. West has not been arrested at this time and Roland does not know when he will be released from the hospital. Historic City News has requested a copy of the incident report and should know more Friday.