A contractor and director at a real estate firm emailed Gainesville City Commissioners and said he hoped they would be assaulted over a controversial plan to allow construction of multifamily housing in residential neighborhoods, police said.
Police arrested Terry Lyle Martin-Back, 68, of Gainesville at his home outside the city limits on a felony intimidation complaint of sending a written threat to City Commissioners.
The city’s progressive Mayor, Lauren Poe, tweeted Tuesday about Martin-Back’s arrest, saying “how we communicate matters” and blamed far-right conservatives for injecting violent language in public policy debates.
“While people from all points on the political spectrum use inflated, or even apocalyptic rhetoric, the practice has become too common since the 2016 election,” said Poe, a Democrat. “The far-right has seized on violent language to target those who disagree with them, often to tragic consequences.”
He added: “It has not been isolated to national politics. In cities and towns across our nation, local elected officials and government workers have been under increasing threats of violence.”
Court records said Martin-Back, also a Democrat, emailed City Commissioners on Friday criticizing their support for a progressive, inclusionary zoning proposal. Under the plan, Gainesville would become the first city in Florida to allow construction of up to four residences on a single plot in residential neighborhoods as a way to make housing more available and suppress rental costs.
Critics of the plan have objected that it would hurt property values for homeowners who bought in neighborhoods they believed would continue to be reserved for single-family homes, not duplexes or quad-plexes for transient renters. Public sentiment expressed at City Commission meetings has been overwhelmingly critical of the plan.
“I hope I’m first in line and my combat emotional stress kicks in, and I can take out all on your face,” Martin-Back wrote in the email. “I’m sick of you.”
Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, obtained a copy of the email.
“My hope after the election, when you are seen in public by the residents of Gainesville, they pull you out of whatever establishment you attend, and they beat your a** over your in-favor vote,” the email said.
Also Friday, Martin-Back wrote on Facebook that he was going to lose control of his post-traumatic stress disorder and if he saw the Commissioners in public, he “won’t be able to control his actions,” according to the criminal complaint. Martin-Back told police he was a combat Army veteran.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Martin-Back said his statements weren’t threats.
“I am not threatening anybody, I’m just letting them know that the community is upset with what they have done or what they are going to be doing to our single-family zoning,” he said.
The Mayor wrote that he and most Commissioners knew Martin-Back. “I am empathetic of his mental health challenges caused by combat-related PTSD,” he wrote on Twitter. “I hope this ends with an opportunity for him to receive help.”
“Our city is dynamic and will always be evolving and growing,” the Mayor said. “We can disagree on how to get there, but it is our responsibility to do so in a respectful and loving way.”
Martin-Back lives outside the city limits, so any such zoning plan by the Commission would not affect his neighborhood. He told police the idea would affect his work as a general contractor for Exit Realty Producers of Gainesville, which still listed him as employed there on its website late Wednesday.
Martin-Back told police he believed that if he had directly threatened Commissioners, he could be charged with a felony so he planned to “get in their face” after the next election.
A City Commissioner, Adrian Hayes-Santos, said in a phone interview that Martin-Back was trying to intimidate the Commissioners to change their votes.
“It’s really a threat to democracy,” he said.
Martin-Back was previously charged with aggravated assault 19 years ago, but he was not prosecuted, according to court records.
He posted a $75,000 bond and was released from the county jail, and the judge said he can not contact any of the City Commissioners or own firearms, according to the court records.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at [email protected]. You can donate to support our students here.