Mayor to Plead Not Guilty; Denies He Hit Reporter: The Mayor of Ft. Myers, Fla., and a News-Press Reporter Got into an Argument over a Story about Manatees

Article excerpt

The mayor of Ft. Myers, Fla., and a News-Press reporter got into an argument over a story about manatees. But who did what to whom?

THE MAYOR OF Fort Myers, Fla., will plead not guilty to a charge that he struck News-Press reporter Roger Williams during a confrontation over a story about endangered manatees.

Mayor Bruce Grady was scheduled to enter that plea at an arraignment on March 23, but the proceeding was postponed at the last minute as Lee County Judge James Adams recused himself on the grounds that he has been Grady's friend for the last decade. A new judge must now be assigned to the case.

State Attorney Joseph P. D'Alessandro charged Grady with one count of battery. Battery is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The incident involving Grady and Williams occurred before a public meeting on Feb. 9.

FERRIES AND MANATEES

Williams said he asked the mayor about his objections to parts of a January News-Press story that detailed the projected impact of large, high-speed ferries on the local population of manatees, an endangered species of large aquatic creatures. "City officials told me there had been no research. I reported that, and the mayor took exception to it," said Williams.

Williams recounts the exchange this way:

"The mayor was talking to other city employees. I went up to the mayor and asked him to tell me how the article was malicious or inaccurate -- if he did research I would put it in the paper. He jumped up, took his glasses off, invited me to step outside, asked one of the city employees to follow. We walked out through the glass doors of a meeting hall, stood on the sidewalk and the mayor began to just shout profanities at me -- and he cuffed me, open-handed on the neck, and asked me what I was going to do about it. I said I was going to keep asking him the question about whether he did the research," explained Williams.

He said he took no action against the mayor, either verbally or physically.

"I went back to the newspaper, reported the incident to my editors and wrote a story about the meeting," said Williams, who has worked at the newspaper as the City Hall reporter for three and one-half years.

He filed a criminal complaint on Feb. 26, after the mayor did not offer the public apology requested by the newspaper.

His editors then moved him from the City Hall beat to general assignment and assigned Betty Parker to City Hall.

"SOME BUMPING"

Attorney John Coleman, who represents the mayor, said Williams was not struck during the incident, but "some bumping" occurred after the mayor was provoked.

"The mayor was minding his business at this meeting and Williams approached him and starts talking to him and starts jumping on the mayor because the mayor criticized Williams' inaccuracies in his story. Here Williams is in the mayor's face. …