Local News

Avon Park city manager pursuing defamation damages

AVON PARK — Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon has filed a defamation lawsuit against Avon Park City Councilman Garrett Anderson, his mother, Sherrie Anderson and his sister, Brittany McGuire.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday with Highland’s County Tenth Judicial Circuit Court, Garrett Anderson, owner-operator of Anderson Arms, an Avon Park firearms reconstituting company, has used his position on the city council to influence Avon Park and Highlands County officials to “condone the violations for the economic benefit of Anderson Arms.”

The complaint is seeking action for defamation where damages are over $15,000.

According to the complaint, Anderson Arms has been previously warned by inspectors concerning ordinance violations and safety codes. Garrett Anderson and those working with him have been frustrated by Deleon’s unwillingness to grant Anderson Arms “special favors.” It stated other city council members feel the company should not get special treatment and supported Deleon’s decision to not grant special privileges.

In retaliation, the complaint alleges Garett and Sherrie Anderson and McGuire launched an effort with public agencies to “discredit Julian Deleon through false publication of defamatory matter.”

March 12, Garrett Anderson filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics that Deleon “abused his power and authority” as city manager, citing unwarranted inspection of his company by the Highlands County building inspector, the Avon Park Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

As a result of the ethics complaint, city council retained investigator Al Smith to investigate Deleon’s alleged “misconduct.” According to the first complaint, the investigation stated the building inspector, S.Y. Moseley, said he never spoke with Deleon about shutting down Anderson Arms nor did Deleon threaten to fire him. David Cloud, interim fire chief, said Deleon’s threat to his job if his company wasn’t inspected was untrue. And Liza Ryan of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, stated Deleon didn’t file a false report that Anderson Arms was engaging in illegal activity.

Smith prepared a report for city council and based on his investigation, found the allegations in the ethics complaint were “unsubstantiated.”

Anderson’s ethics’ complaints were dismissed Sept. 18, 2013, based on a preliminary investigation by the Florida Ethics Commission, finding no probable cause finding Deleon had used his position to threaten Anderson.

In early March, rather than take his ethics violations case against Deleon to court, Anderson settled his case against Deleon. A hearing had been set to decide whether Deleon could recoup attorney’s fees in his defense against alleged ethics violations.

After having the complaint against him twice dismissed, the case was set to go before Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings in the Avon Park City Council Chambers. Anderson was required to pay the City of Avon Park $12,683.58 to reimburse for Deleon’s attorneys’ fees. The agreement stipulated the money be paid “in one lump sum by March 31, 2014.”

A second complaint filed by Deleon is against Sherri Anderson for filing a complaint with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office alleging the same misconduct as her son and the third complaint involving McGuire stated March 3, after the original settlement keeping Anderson from pursuing allegations against Deleon, another grievance was filed with the sheriff’s office to “circumvent” the March settlement and validate the previous complaints filed by Garrett and Sherrie Anderson against Deleon after Garrett “promised he would not make again in the future.”

Garrett Anderson said Thursday he, his mother and sister find the new complaint to be “ludicrous” and thought it was over. He said he and his family would now pursue “due diligence” and “do what we need to do to get this done” against Deleon and his attorney, Robin Gibson of the Gibson Law Firm, Lake Wales.

“I thought everything was in good standing and we were making progress and moving forward,” he said. “I didn’t expect this.”

Deleon’s complaint also includes four other counts: conspiracy to defame and defamation by Garret and Sherrie Anderson and McGuire.

In an email, Deleon said the lawsuit “speaks for itself” and deferred comments to Gibson. Gibson wasn’t available for comment Thursday.


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