By Brandon Martin
Following Martinsville City Council’s July 14 decision to endorse a cease and desist letter sent by City Attorney Eric Monday to local business owner Ray Reynolds on behalf of Council Member Jennifer Bowles, Reynold’s attorney Tim Anderson, of Anderson & Associates, PC, has sent a notice of claims for damages to the city on behalf of his client.
The claims, according to the notice, are against the city for “civil harassment, defamation, libel and slander,” citing the cease and desist letter, communications with media and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that Anderson had previously issued to obtain communications and documents concerning Monday’s decision to send the letter.
The notice is addressed to City Manager Leon Towarnicki.
Monday said he was later made aware of the document.
“Since the letter references potential litigation, I decline to comment,” Monday said. “Any response will be sent to Mr. Anderson directly, or filed in a court of law.”
Towarnicki, similarly, declined to comment, given the legal nature of the document.
In the notice, Anderson said that because of the city’s involvement in what he considers a private matter, the city had “placed governmental legitimacy behind the claims and denials of Jennifer Bowles to the further detriment of my client… My client’s injuries to his personal and professional reputation continue daily and have been substantially amplified negatively by the City picking sides in a personal dispute between two citizens.”
The dispute that led to the cease and desist letter involves a phone call between Reynolds and Bowles. Reynolds alleges that Bowles called him a racist due to his support for President Donald Trump.
“At no point in the conversation did I call him a racist nor did I object to him voting for Trump — as is his right as a citizen,” Bowles has said.
Bowles said she recalled during the conversation that Reynolds “never said anyone specifically was threatening him, and I didn’t see anyone threatening him on the page when I looked either. I did, however, see posts” in which others were attacked.
She added there wasn’t much more she could do to help Reynolds due to the speech rights of others on the page.
Bowles has alleged that she was threatened, “saying that if I don’t do that, he’s going to do ‘this, this and this’ about my role on council. Even then, all I did was have a conversation with the mayor and the city attorney. Then, he continued to push the envelope further with malicious attacks on social media.”
Later, Reynolds said he questioned whether it was appropriate for Monday to represent Bowles in the matter.
When the council endorsed Monday’s letter in a majority vote, members cited Reynolds’ alleged attacks as being directed towards Bowles in her capacity as a city representative.
Anderson, however, maintains that the matter is a private issue, citing previous remarks that Monday had made to the Henry County Enterprise: “However, Monday said taxpayer funds will not be spent on the issue. He added that he had advised Bowles to seek private counsel if she wished to pursue the issue further.”
“If it was truly a city issue, why is the City Attorney not pursing it? It either is 100 percent city business or it’s not. If it is 100 percent city business, then why is Mr. Monday requiring the councilwoman to get her own private counsel,” Anderson asked. “The claim in the letter from the city attorney is defamation of Ms. Bowles. Not defamation of the city. Defamation is a personal claim to Bowles not to the city.”
Anderson also questioned Monday’s ability to discern defamation, because he said he doubts Monday was privy to the initial phone call between Bowles and Reynolds.
“How does the City Attorney know what was said? Did he hear it? Other than Ms. Bowles and her witness, did any of the council members hear this conversation? Obviously, the answer is no,” Anderson wrote in the notice.
When asked of his own knowledge of the conversation, Anderson said “I was not on the call.”
While it is unknown as to the specifics of the phone call, Reynolds allegedly posted a 28 minute long video to social media shortly thereafter.
In the video he said ““I’m here to talk about Martinsville and how I called this week on Wednesday to ask Jennifer Bowles, who is on the City Council, what can we do about the attacks on me. She said she was part of it. She admits that she deems me a racist because I voted for Donald Trump. Because I support Donald Trump, a city councilman, a city councilwoman–Jennifer Bowles–tells me that this Facebook page is for me. That they intend to shut my mouth. They intend to take care of me because I vote Donald Trump and I vote Donald Trump. She actually called me a racist on the phone. When I asked her what could we do to get things calmed down, so no one got hurt, and didn’t anybody’s business get hurt. Now this is somebody in the community that I used to look up to and I supported. I’m not going to support her now.”
Approximately 17 minutes into the video, Bowles is again referenced.
“I want all of you when you see Jennifer Bowles … and you see some of these other people on that page, I want you to be sure you thank these people for what they have done to this (Jennifer Short Memorial Scholarship Bike and Car) ride.”
Reynolds, who had spent several years organizing the ride, canceled this year’s event.
“I want this to be their legacy. Her hatred towards me for supporting Donald Trump, and for being a Donald Trump voter, has destroyed a ride that we have had for 18 years. They have ended this ride. And I want everyone in the community to be sure to thank these people that claimed they were doing this for peaceful protest yet they seen all these things that were done to me and they sat there and watched it.”
Eighteen minutes into the video, Bowles is again mentioned.
“And you Jennifer Bowles, you are a poor excuse for a councilwoman. For you to tell me over the phone, I’m racist because I support Donald Trump, and you intend to do all you can to stop him from winning as President and you are going to hurt me. You are going to do things to me, you and other people–that you are part of this protest–well I’m calling every one of you out right now.”
The video can no longer be viewed on Reynolds’ social media page. He said his account was deleted following requests by the group Martinsville Protest, which he said had been responsible for damaging him personally and professionally. Copies of the video were made before the account was deactivated.
Bowles has said she was a member of the protest group but that she doesn’t have an active role in it.
Reynolds said he has sustained a significant amount of damages due to the group. He estimated the amount of damage done to his construction business is “in the thousands,” and alleged potential customers were told “that I am a racist and not to do business with me anymore.”
Besides his construction business, Reynolds also owns a photography business, which he said sustained “astronomical” damage.
“This is where I live. I was the person people would go to for photos,” Reynolds said. “I was a big part of the schools.” He alleged the group “said they didn’t want me to do photography at the schools anymore.”
He said that the school systems have not formally announced that they would not do business with him anymore but “once someone uses a derogatory term about you then that’s it. Your reputation is shot.”
Reynolds said that he has taken approximately two million photos with the schools over the years and each photo is worth approximately $150.
Since his social media page has been deactivated, he said he can no longer receive requests for photos anymore.
There is no cost estimate for the ongoing battle with the city.
“I am not representing Mr. Reynolds in his claims against Ms. Bowles,” Anderson said. “My issues are with the city, picking a side of a dispute between two citizens and publicly declaring my clients facts as lies.
“These actions by the city have amplified the other allegations of members of the public. The defamation is extensive by many people,” Anderson said. “Accurately repeating a false and defamatory allegation is categorically subject to liability, because the accusation being reported is false and defamatory.
“While most would take issue with a City Attorney threatening jail of a citizen, I take most issue with the City Attorney making a first-hand statement ‘and your allegations are simply lies,’” Anderson wrote in the notice.
He added that he is “agreeable to discussing resolution of this claim prior to suit being filed,” adding that the letter was sent.