DeSantis expected to 'take action' following Destin Councilmember Prebble Ramswell arrest
DESTIN — Facing a felony charge of official misconduct alongside misdemeanor counts of obstruction, battery and violating the state's Sunshine Law, City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell could wind up being suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Were that to happen before Monday, Ramswell would not be on the dais that night when Pointe Mezzanine LLC comes to the council to request approval for a controversial private docking facility at its Holiday Isle condominium in Destin.
Prior Sunshine Law violations:State Attorney clears Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis of Public Records Law violations
It is her conversations with a private citizen concerning the Pointe Mezzanine project — and her alleged failure to turn over copies of those conversations to the city so that it could respond to a public records request — that are at the root of Ramswell's Oct. 8 run-in with the law.
"Prebble Ramswell did knowingly, willingly and intentionally conceal numerous public records from the city, which caused unlawful harm to others, thereby committing the crimes of official misconduct," according to the State Attorney's Office affidavit bringing charges against her.
Under state statutes, any elected or appointed municipal official is subject to suspension after being arrested for a felony or a misdemeanor related to their duties of office, and DeSantis has not hesitated as governor to suspend elected officials accused of wrongdoing.
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said Tuesday that the governor had that day received news of the charges Ramswell faces.
"At this time, no suspension has been issued, but the governor is expected to take action shortly," Pushaw said.
Ramswell was arrested as officials attempted to serve a search warrant to locate messages sent from her private phone to local activist Gene Earley. The affidavit says that the complaint of a possible public records law violation against Ramswell was brought to the First Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office on June 5.
According to her arrest report, Ramswell committed battery upon officers in her home when she delivered a "horse kick" that struck an investigator in the "lower back and rear end."
Both Ramswell and her husband Anthony had resisted efforts of law enforcement officials to enter their home and serve the search warrant, the arrest report said. Each was placed in handcuffs inside the home.
Upon securing the phone they were looking for, investigators said they located communications between Ramswell and Earley that Joe Winkeler, who Pointe Mezzanine LLC calls a development consultant, had requested the city of Destin provide him as public records.
The State Attorney's Office said Winkeler had not received the requested records from the city, but had learned of their existence "during the course of separate legal proceedings with Mr. Earley."
In December 2020, Pointe Mezzanine LLC, which lists Robert Guidry as its managing partner, filed a lawsuit against Earley seeking damages for his "repeated and ongoing disparagement of Pointe Mezzanine LLC and Pointe Resort LLC." That litigation is still pending.
The affidavit states that in the communications Ramswell declined to turn over to the city, she and Earley discussed "specific issues" relating to the zoning, permitting and development of the docking facility Pointe Mezzanine is seeking approval to build.
Ramswell's failure to turn over the communications as requested did harm to Pointe Mezzanine LLC by hindering the development, permitting and zoning of the docking facility, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit points out that the city had taken steps in November 2019 to strengthen its policies and procedures regarding public records, including creating requirements that officials either use city-issued cellphones when conducting public business or immediately forwarding city business communications to city files.
It accuses Ramswell of consciously violating the policy.
Ramswell attorney Cristopher Klotz has not returned phone calls seeking comment.
The tweaks were made to existing Destin public records policies after Pointe Mezzanine filed a lawsuit in October 2019, claiming the city was violating Florida's Sunshine Law.
As the lawsuit progressed, it was revealed that Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis had violated public records law by failing to turn over to Pointe Mezzanine text messages he'd sent to Winkeler. Jarvis, who unlike Ramswell has been supportive of the Pointe Mezzanine project, said he thought since Winkeler worked for the company, the records requested already would have been in the hands of its attorneys.
Although Jarvis freely admitted to the public records law violations and went so far as to self report the violation to the Florida Ethics Commission, the State Attorney's Office declined to bring charges in that case.
The policy changes instituted as a result of Jarvis' missteps "should help prevent these problems from occurring in the future," then Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said in defense of the decision not to prosecute.