‘They wanted power’ – Prosecutors, defense make opening statements in Gilliams, Parris trial


“Here come the police.”

Those were the last four words uttered at a Sebastian City Council meeting on April 22, 2020, according to Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans. Evans spoke Tuesday – the first day of trial for former councilmembers Damien Gilliams and Pamela Rapp Parris – who prosecutors said orchestrated an illegal meeting more than a year ago.

Gilliams is represented by Defense Attorney Jeffrey Garland. Parris is represented by Defense Attorney Philip Reizenstein.

Evans, the prosecuting attorney, played security footage of the meeting in the courtroom for the six-person jury. The video showed Gilliams, Parris and former Vice-Mayor Charles Mauti sitting on the dais while the lights were off and the doors were locked to those outside.

In another video of the meeting that was posted to YouTube, the person recording can be heard saying, “Here come the police.” Gilliams can be heard adjourning the meeting before officers arrive.

Prosecutors said the meeting was illegal because the public was not notified, while the defense said there was notice and at least 10 people from the public were present. City officials said Gilliams and Parris tried to oust Mayor Ed Dodd, City Manager Paul Carlisle and City Attorney Manny Anon Jr. in an attempt to take over the city.

“They wanted power. You’ll see that from the recording,” Evans said. “The public would not go along with their plan. They used the pandemic to get what they want.”

Gilliams and Parris both maintain their innocence. Both were charged with perjury and violation of the sunshine law last year.

Mauti was issued a non-criminal violation of the sunshine law after he agreed to cooperate with the state attorney’s office. Mauti pled no contest and was ordered to pay a $500 fine, along with $1,250 in investigative costs, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler previously said.

State law prohibits elected officials from discussing business outside of a public meeting. Even though the defense said 10 people were at the meeting, prosecutors said those people were all Gilliams’ friends and supporters.

Power struggle

Garland spoke about a city council meeting held March 18, 2020, a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was slowly making its way to south Florida. A number of items were on the agenda including the reorganization of the city council, providing health insurance for council members and the local state of emergency for COVID-19, officials said.

Garland said Dodd suddenly canceled the meeting without notice, and that all items on the agenda were moved to the next meeting for April 22, 2020. He said the council were to discuss if Dodd would be removed as mayor.

“The minority of council were in favor of policies that the majority questioned,” Garland said.

Prosecutors said Carlisle canceled the April 22 meeting after city officials got an overwhelming response from citizens concerned about COVID-19. Garland said there was no consensus from the city council to cancel the meeting.

“The minority on the council overthrew the established government,” Garland said.

Jim Hill, then a councilmember and now the vice-mayor, previously said city mayors have authority to cancel meetings and declare local state of emergencies under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency order.

“The city manager is an emergency manager. I can transfer my power to him,” Dodd previously said. “The city manager was in his right to cancel the meeting.”

The meeting

City of Sebastian Manager of Information Systems Barbara Brooke-Reese spoke as a witness in the courtroom.

She said all city employees received an email about 2:30 p.m. that same day notifying them the meeting was postponed. About 30 minutes later, officials put up a slide on the city website that read “City of Sebastian meeting scheduled for tonight was postponed.”

Brooke-Reese also said officials put up signs on every door at city hall. The signs read “city hall is closed to the public.”

Prosecutors said Gilliams, Parris and Mauti did not agree with Carlisle’s decision to cancel the meeting. The three, acting as a majority on the council, later met inside the city chambers to hold the meeting and agreed to replace Dodd with Gilliams as mayor, officials said.

City officials said Gilliams, Parris and Mauti also agreed to fire Carlisle and Anon, a claim Gilliams denied. All actions taken at the meeting were a violation of the sunshine law and considered void, Dodd previously said.

Gilliams, Parris and Mauti were booted out of office in a Sept. 15 recall election. Residents voted in former councilman and mayor Bob McPartlan, and newcomers Christopher Nunn and Fred Jones to replace the three officials.

The city of Sebastian sued Gilliams, Parris and Mauti for holding the meeting. The three former city officials countersued, saying the decision to cancel the April 22 meeting was a violation of the city charter.

The trial was expected to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Judge Michael Linn’s courtroom.


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