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Attorney alleges Battie had prior knowledge of hoax racist Facebook post

The attorney for Kelly Franklin says evidence shows that Sarasota City Commissioner Kyle Battie was aware of the hoax nearly a month before presenting it at a meeting.

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In the week since an attorney for Sarasota resident Kelly Franklin notified city officials of likely legal action against Commissioner Kyle Battie, the attorney has made an allegation of collusion prior to Battie's public accusation of racism against Franklin during the Jan. 16 Sarasota City Commission meeting.

In a letter to city commissioners, City Manager Marlon Brown and City Attorney Robert Fournier, attorney Richard Harrison of Tampa wrote the city should not consider covering any legal expenses that Battie may incur.

Harrison also included a timeline of events that he alleges is evidence that Battie and Corona Cigar Co. co-owner Tanya Borysiewicz knew as early as mid-December that a social media post portraying Franklin as a racist was a hoax.

Franklin is a frequent critic of city politics, has served as publisher of a newsletter for the local government watchdog group CityPAC and was an avid opponent of the approval of Corona Cigar Co., which opened in September 2022, claiming inconsistencies with city code.

Battie presented the false social media post that featured a photo of himself at the Corona Cigar Co. ribbon cutting, along with Borysiewicz, who is half Black, beneath the caption “Gorillas in the midst of being gorillas are on my mind.” 

It was quickly proven Franklin did make a post with that caption, but it was in the context of an African photo safari accompanied by two dozen images of gorillas in the wild. Without naming Franklin, although her name was clearly visible to anyone in attendance or watching the meeting, Battie said he was a victim of racism.

The crumpled printout of a false Facebook post of the ribbon-cutting for Corona Cigar Company.
Courtesy image

On the Feb. 5 City Commission meeting agenda is an item to consider whether the city should cover Battie’s legal expenses should litigation ensue. Commissioners’ legal expenses are covered for lawsuits resulting from them carrying out their duties as elected officials. In his letter, Harrison takes exception to that.

“I note that City Manager Brown sent an email encouraging you to pay Battie’s legal fees and suggesting, disingenuously, that Ms. Franklin’s claims arise out of Battie’s attendance as then-mayor at the Corona Cigar Company ribbon-cutting ceremony,” Harrison wrote in his most recent communiqué. “That is absurd. Ms. Franklin’s claims against Battie arise out of his statements and actions on Jan. 16, 2024, and what we now know about his conduct leading up to that date. They have zero to do with his attendance at the Corona Cigar Co. event.”

The letter continued, “There also appears to be some sentiment in the community, which might be shared by some of you, that the events of Jan. 16 were just an unfortunate case of Battie responding emotionally and spontaneously to what he rightfully perceived as a racist post directed toward him. By the end of your Jan. 16 meeting Battie was attempting to portray himself as the victim in this matter. 

“Let’s be very clear about this: The only victim here is Ms. Franklin, whose good name, character and reputation were maliciously smeared by Battie in the most public way possible.”

Harrison also alleged in his letter that just before noon on Dec, 19, 2023, Battie received a text from Borysiewicz that included a photo of the crumpled printout of the hoax post along with a request for Battie to call her. Later that same day, he writes Borysiewicz texted Battie with additional posts and photos from Franklin’s Facebook page, including her actual post using the “Gorillas in the midst” text in conjunction with the collage of safari photos.

“Thus, by the end of the day on Dec. 19, 2023, Battie knew that the text in the hoax post came from an actual but completely innocent post about actual gorillas,” Harrison wrote, adding that Battie did not raise the matter at the commission’s Jan. 2 meeting, waiting instead for the Jan. 16 meeting when, “Neither of them (Battie nor Borysiewicz) shares with you that they both had Kelly’s actual gorilla post as early as Dec. 19.”

Harrison’s letter includes the following timeline, the data made available as a result of a public records request of official city communications:

  • 11:43 a.m. Dec. 19, 2023: Borysiewicz texts Battie the hoax photo and asks him to call her.
  • 9:38 pm. Dec. 19, 2023: Borysiewicz texts Battie seven other images from Franklin’s Facebook post, including the safari collage with the caption in its original context.
  • 12:04 p.m. Dec. 20, 2023: Battie transfers three photos (safari gallery with caption in its original context, another gorilla from that series and Corona menu) between phones.
  • Jan. 2, 2024: City Commission meeting held. Nothing regarding the matter was raised. 
  • Jan. 10, 2024: Order of the day change requested by Battie for the Jan. 16 meeting.
  • 8 a.m. Jan. 15, 2024: Borysiewicz texts Battie, “I will be flying to Sarasota around 5:30. Do you want to get together to go over this situation. I don't want to turn up blind. Cheers.”
  • 6:30-8 p.m. Jan. 15, 2024: Borysiewicz arrives from Orlando, meets Battie at Corona Cigar Co.
  • Jan. 16, 2024: Battie presents the Facebook post image at the City Commission meeting.

As a result of the sequence of events, Harrison alleges Battie “had planned the Jan. 16 attack on Ms. Franklin for nearly a month.”

A request sent to all recipients of Harrison’s letter for reply remained unanswered by the end of day Monday.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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