LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — A labor attorney for the city of Lynn Haven investigated allegations against the city’s police chief and found that while he had texted inappropriate comments, his actions did not meet the threshold required to terminate his employment.
The attorney, J. David Marsey, also said he found no evidence that Chief Ricky Ramie had broken any laws or acted in an unethical manner while performing his duties.
Commissioner Judy Tinder called for Ramie to be fired after she was mysteriously made aware of text messages Ramie sent to former City Manager Mike White about five years ago. Tinder’s move comes as Ramie is set to serve as a key witness in an ongoing federal corruption trial against former Mayor Margo Anderson and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix construction. Anderson and Finch are accused of conspiracy and bribery in connection to city projects.
Even though it is evidence in a federal case the text messages were released to several members of the public. It is unclear who released them to the public and for what purpose. Ramie, Tinder, and White testified about the text messages in open court in December.
According to an official transcript of the proceeding, Ramie suggested it was Finch who ensured the texts were given to Tinder.
“Well, I just find it highly interesting that this discovery was given to your client, who obviously is out there just sharing it amongst -” he said before being cut off by Finch’s defense attorney, Guy Lewis.
In a recent court filing federal prosecutors said the defense has tried to smear an FBI agent, an investigator with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, one of the prosecutors on the case, and Ramie.
During a Tuesday morning commission meeting, Marsey said it was important for city officials and the public to consider the text messages in this context.
“Allegations are often made against witnesses, government witnesses in an effort to tank the case, to thwart the case, to impeach the witnesses, to mitigate or minimize the evidence that they may provide in a criminal trial,” he said. “I’ve also seen efforts to highly publicize allegations against government witnesses and in efforts to pollute a jury pool, to inflame members of the community who are not operating with all of the facts, in an effort to obtain a favorable outcome in a criminal case.”
During the hearing, the defense lobbed several allegations against Ramie outside of offensive text messages. Marsey said he investigated each of them.
One of the allegations was that a city contractor did work on Ramie’s boat and then billed the city for the work. Former City Manager Mike White testified in the December hearing that he had previously learned of this allegation.
“The inquiry revealed that there was no invoices sent to the city and no payments made by the city for repairs to Chief Ramie’s boat,” Marsey said. “Therefore, the allegation is unfounded.”
Another allegation was that Ramie fixed tickets at White’s behest. Marsey said in the two alleged incidents one of them was handled before Ramie was hired and in the other, the person who got the ticket paid the citation.
Marsey said Ramie allowed White to fire a city-owned AR-15 at a gun range. However, law enforcement agencies allow residents to fire weapons while under proper supervision from time to time. He compared it to a ride-along that residents and members of the media are allowed to do.
Ramie also gave White a firearm when disposing of evidence in a closed case. Marsey noted that law enforcement agencies also do this from time to time and it is not illegal.
Ramie was accused in the hearing of setting up someone for arrest at White’s behest. Ramie testified that it was a stalking case, that an investigator spoke with the suspect to tell them to stop the behavior, and that when it continued the suspect was arrested.
Marsey noted that the suspect took a plea in the case and under federal law cannot now claim that she was falsely arrested.
“I’d also like to note that during my inquiry I also interfaced with the city attorney and we have reached out to the US Attorney’s Office, who has confirmed there’s no indicia of criminal conduct by Chief Ramie,” Marsey said.
Marsey also spoke at length about the text messages themselves noting that City Manager Vickie Gainer reprimanded Ramie over the issue and placed documentation in his file. However, the texts were made on private cell phones and there is no indication that Ramie has acted inappropriately while on the job, Marsey said.
“The inquiry also revealed that there’s no indication at all that he made any LGBTQ or other insensitive, improper or offensive comments,” while serving as assistant chief or chief, Marsey said.
Marsey also cautioned about trusting any version of the text messages that are currently being shared on social media. Marsey said he tried to get a copy of the messages from the court and was denied. News 13 has also asked for a copy of text messages from the court and is waiting on a ruling on the matter.
How the text messages became public may, at some point, be under scrutiny, Marsey said.
“Because if the court placed them under seal and issued an order that they were not to be disclosed, whoever disclosed them may have some issues with the district court judge,” Marsey said.
Whether or not the texts were under seal, and when, was the subject of discussion during the second day of the hearing.
Rob Vezina, Anderson’s attorney, pointed out that the texts were given by the government to the defense, and at the time they were not under a protective order. That means that the defendants and the defense team could share them with the public without breaking any rules or laws.
Prosecutor Andrew Grogan agreed with that assessment noting that prosecutors had asked Judge Mark Walker for a protective order for the material but that it was not granted at that time.
While it appears no rules or laws were broken in releasing the texts to the public, the question of who released them, and why, remains unanswered.