Graham Fountain denies getting access to exempt law enforcement records of Prebble Ramswell arrest

  • In US
  • 2022-05-04 11:00:39Z
  • By Northwest Florida Daily News

DESTIN - "Blustering" was the word State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden used to describe recent comments made by her former co-worker, Graham Fountain, implying he had access to law enforcement records authorities claim are exempt from disclosure to the public.

"He was probably blustering. If he does have it, I have no idea how he would have it," Bowden Madden said.

Graham Fountain
Graham Fountain  

More blustering? State Attorney Executive Director Graham Fountain refutes POLITICO story alleging he fibbed

His words though, have focused attention and raised questions about a search warrant served Oct. 8 at the home of suspended Destin City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell.

Ramswell and her husband were both detained at the scene of the raid. Ramswell was charged with felony battery on a law enforcement officer after she allegedly kicked backwards while being subdued by State Attorney's Office investigators who had pressed her against a home stairway. The "horse kick," as it was described in arrest records, struck one investigator in the buttocks.

Both Ramswell and her husband, Tony, were also charged with misdemeanor obstruction.

All of those charges have since been dropped.

In a Facebook comment posted following the April 13 dismissal of the battery charge, Fountain, a former Okaloosa County Commissioner who served as the State Attorney's Office executive director from January to September 2021, defended the actions of the law enforcement officers.

"Get the video evidence of her behavior on the scene. It wont impress you," he told a Ramswell defender.

The statement resonated with followers of the "Destin's Bottom Line" social media page on which it was posted.

"What he said certainly implies he has seen the video or talked to someone about it," Ramswell said.

Ramswell confirmed that video footage of her confrontation with officers does exist, but it has not been turned over to the Northwest Florida Daily News by either the State Attorney's Office or Ramswell's defense attorney.

In response to a handful of public records requests, the State Attorney's Office has released three video clips to the newspaper that were shot from outside Ramswell's home on Country Club Drive. Nothing showing Ramswell struggling with officers appears on any of them.

The Sheriff's Office deployed three deputies to her home Oct. 8. Each wore a body camera, and it was they who captured whatever footage was obtained. The State Attorney's Office investigators did not wear body cameras, according to David Folsom, who has replaced Fountain as the agency's executive director.

Under state law, body cam video shot inside a home is exempt from disclosure to the public. Ramswell said no deputies ever entered her home on the day the search warrant was served.

Prebble Ramswell
Prebble Ramswell  

The "inside the home" exemption was originally cited by the State Attorney's Office as a rationale for not turning over some video footage. Folsom said the Daily News now has all footage obtained by prosecutors from the Sheriff's Office.

"They may have more that we don't possess," he said.

In response to a separate public records request, the Sheriff's Office has also offered to provide the Daily News with copies of the videos it has. Records personnel stipulated the cost to process the request would be $99 and estimated it would take between six and eight weeks for the request to be fulfilled.

The Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office have denied receiving a public records request from Fountain for video body cam records, and Fountain now denies ever seeing video footage of Ramswell resisting law enforcement officials.

"I was told from the street about her behavior. And her arrest records are public. The nature of what was taped by officers on the scene just documented what we all read in your paper and public arrest record," he said in a text message.

Fountain takes job with Pointe Mezzanine group: Law and order conscious Graham Fountain now works for Louisiana man who bribed former governor

At the time of the text message exchange, Fountain was apparently under the impression all of the body cam footage shot at Ramswell's home was public record.

"I have not seen the video cam. But I'm sure I will. It is no longer confidential," he said April 22.

The Daily News also requested records of phone calls made and text messages sent by State Attorney's Office investigators at the Ramswell home.

A long list of calls made by two State Attorney's Office investigators appear to have been primarily limited to fellow agency officials. The State Attorney's Office initially stated that all text messages sent from the scene had been deleted, but Folsom later amended that statement to say none of the officers who served the search warrant at Ramswell's home had sent texts during the operation.

When he left the State Attorney's Office last September, Fountain told Facebook followers that he was stepping back from a public life whose stresses had exacerbated existing health issues. He resurfaced a couple months later to announce he had taken a new job working for Robert Guidry and Joe Winkeler, developers behind Pointe Mezzanine LLC, which is developing a condominium complex on Destin's Holiday Isle.

In June 2021, when Fountain was still employed there, Winkeler went to the State Attorney's Office with evidence he had uncovered of possible public records law violations committed by Ramswell, a verbal critic of some aspects of the Pointe Mezzanine project.

That August, State Attorney's Office investigators confiscated Ramswell's phone to search for communications between herself and citizen activist Gene Earley that, as a City Council member, state law required her to provide.

"Her conversations involved specific, actionable intent," arrest documents said. And "were a matter of public business."

Sunshine Law: State Attorney clears Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis of Public Records Law violations

The October raid on the Ramswell home was conducted to confiscate home computers, Folsom said. In the background of one of the body cam videos, Ramswell can be heard protesting the second search of her property.

"In hindsight, we should have done it all in one fell swoop," Bowden Madden said.

Although a warrant for her arrest had been signed on the day the officers entered her home, Folsom said the intent of the State Attorney's Office was to gather the evidence they needed and allow Ramswell to turn herself in.

"They went over there to serve a search warrant and ran into a problem," he said. "That's my fault. I should have said, 'Let's just go get her.' "

Three days after her arrest on the battery and obstruction charges, Ramswell was charged with a misdemeanor public records law violation and official misconduct, a felony. Arrest records said she "knowingly, willingly and intentionally" concealed public records from the city.

Legal pressure: Ramswell update: City councilwoman attends first meeting since arrest, abstains from voting

On the Monday following her arrest, Ramswell - on the advice of counsel - abstained from a vote to allow Pointe Mezzanine LLC to move forward with construction of a docking facility on Holiday Isle. The council voted to approve a major development order, major subdivision, marine construction permit and Gulf Shore Drive extension construction agreement for the company.

About a month after her arrest, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Ramswell from office, citing the crimes for which she had been charged. She ultimately was allowed to plead no contest to two misdemeanor public records law violations but remains in limbo as far as her reinstatement status.

In his role as liaison to the city for the Pointe Mezzanine LLC development group, Fountain is being paid to help foster good relations between Destin officials and his bosses, Winkeler and Guidry.

"We would like to build better working relationships that fosters open communication," a letter to City Council members announcing his employment as a government affairs consultant said. "I will always be fair and honest in dealings with your city."

Since entering the employ of Winkeler and Guidry, Fountain has been active on social media, challenging his critics and supporters of Ramswell.

When Bobby Wagner was appointed to the City Council to replace the suspended Ramswell, Fountain sent him a congratulatory text.

"She's toast," he said of Ramswell. "You will bring a great breath of fresh air to that place."

Ramswell has made no secret that she believes it is Guidry - who famously got former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards sent to prison by testifying he had paid the governor $1.5 million in bribes in exchange for a lucrative riverboat casino gambling license - who orchestrated her arrest.

On the video shot during the service of the search warrant, she and her husband can both be heard telling officers on the scene "it's Guidry," clearly indicating they believe the developer was somehow behind law enforcement arriving at their door.

"I know it's Guidry and I hope everybody knows who Guidry is," Ramswell tells Okaloosa deputies in one body cam video.

Winkeler called Ramswell's allegations "just silly."

He declined further comment.

On the day she was cleared of the felony charges she faced, Ramswell's attorney, Ruston Sanders, issued a statement laying responsibility for the prosecution of his client at the feet of "special interest groups."

"Florida's sweeping public records law was enacted to ensure transparency and eliminate backroom deals and outright corruption. Today, outside special interest groups weaponize it to discredit political opponents, intimidate critics and chill collegial decision-making," the statement said. "The developers in this case did not intend to become more informed taxpayers, and their public information requests served no public interest; their motives were purely commercial.

"Public records laws are intentionally misused by outside special interests to prevent the effective functioning of government and limit public discussion of critical but controversial development interests," Sanders wrote. "Strict interpretation of the statute chills informal access by the public to their elected officials and the public servants who work for them. It snuffs out meaningful dialogue between local officials and their neighbors about private projects which may have serious and perhaps irreparable impact."

This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Ex-Okaloosa commissioner Graham Fountain denies seeing Ramswell records


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