Detectives to determine if calling an official "a piece of shit" constitutes "a threat against a public official.”
Updated June 24, 2023 to reflect comment from Winter Garden Police.
Winter Garden City Manager Jon Williams last week ordered Chief of Police Steve Graham to investigate Anne Bingler, owner of Crown Pointe Equestrian, to determine if she violated Winter Garden’s Resolution 23-02 and also made a potential threat against a public official after she used profanity in conversation with Williams following the June 8 city commission meeting.
Bingler, without raising her voice, called Williams “a piece of shit.” She immediately apologized.
Williams's directive came in a June 14 email message that VoxPopuli was copied on.
“Passion is a great trait, but when it crosses the line of civility, that’s another thing,” Williams wrote in a follow-up email.
Resolution 23-03 details rules for public decorum in city meetings. It also dictates how journalists interact with public officials when reporting on city meetings. According to Florida Statute 838.021, threatening to harm a public official is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. [Full disclosure: VoxPopuli’s editor in chief Norine Dworkin is also under investigation for violating the media rules.]
The city manager’s directive stems from a brief exchange Williams and Bingler had about a 2021 Orange County Environmental Protection Division (EPD) investigation.
EPD investigated Bingler in 2021 for allegedly filling in wetlands on her property after she filed a complaint about flooding on her land. A neighboring property had filed a counter-complaint alleging that Bingler was at fault. In 2022, the EPD sent Bingler a letter that said,
“Due to the apparent historic and intermittent use of this area for agricultural purposes, EPD will
not be further pursuing enforcement for this area as an unauthorized wetland impact…the referenced incident has been administratively closed and no further action is required.”
During the commission meeting, as commissioners considered whether to allow home construction to the east of Bingler’s show horse training facility, Williams independently raised the EPD investigation, suggesting she had “illegally filled in wetlands” without mentioning that EPD had declared that Bingler had a “bona fide agricultural exemption” and that the investigation was closed.
After the meeting, Bingler approached Williams at the dais and told him, “what you said is not true and you know it.” Then she called him “a piece of shit."
“Wow!” Williams said, “You’re going to call me a piece of shit?”
“I apologize,” Bingler said immediately. “I withdraw that.”
By the end of their conversation, the two had shaken hands.
It’s unclear how name-calling rises to the level of a threat against a public official. According to the 2003 Supreme Court case Virginia v. Black — which upheld a Virginia ban on burning crosses with the intent to intimidate — a true threat is defined as "those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. . . . where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.”
Winter Garden Police spokesperson Capt. Scott Allen told VoxPopuli that the matter is "still under investigation at this time."