Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Niblock Receives Slap on the Wrist

On Tuesday March 12, at 2:15 PM in the Collier County Courthouse the case against Dr. Lee Niblock on charges of first degree misdemeanor battery was adjudicated in the courtroom of Judge Michael J. Provost of the 20th Judicial Circuit Court.

The case was scheduled to be heard at 3 PM on March 13 in the same courtroom before the same judge. It had been once again postponed last week to the March 13th date, so the change of date and time to March 12 came as a surprise to all involved.

The entire saga began on Friday, February 16, 2018, when Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino advised both the city attorney and all members of the city council that an initial investigation regarding a “battery complaint” had been made to his office regarding City Manager Lee Niblock.

The incident involved unwanted advances made against the female principal of the Marco Island Academy. Those charges could have carried a $1,000 fine and one year of incarceration or 12 months of probation. Niblock would only pay $572 in court costs and another $50 in prosecution costs. No requirements for confinement or for probation were required, according to court documents.

An initial investigation began almost two weeks prior to Schettino advising council and the city attorney that an official complaint had been lodged. This came about once electronic evidence and the official statement from the victim was received by the Marco Department. Chief Schettino then turned that evidence over to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to lead the investigation

If a victim has only been threatened verbally then that would constitute “assault.” The actual physical contact with another would establish the basis for a “battery” charge.

Niblock appeared before council on February 20, where he requested to be placed on a paid leave of absence to allow him to settle the complaint and return to work, which they granted. There is no such provision allowing that within the City Charter.

At the March 19, 2018 meeting of council Niblock was discharged for cause. Since then, the community, the victim and her family have waited for the case to be heard. The victim Mellissa Scott has continued in her duties as principal for the highly successful Marco Island Academy as the process dragged out.

Shortly after the charges were brought against Niblock in Collier County, a similar complaint was lodged against him in Alachua County, where he had served as the County Manager prior to coming to Marco Island. He was discharged from that position early in the fall of 2017 when he fell out of favor with that board of commissioners.

In a stunning twist of events, the State’s Attorney in the Alachua County Case almost simultaneously moved to have Niblock sign a “deferred prosecution agreement” after the case was settle here in Collier County.  The victim in Alachua County had been seeking some movement on that complaint after waiting almost a year after she had filed her complaint.  Collier County had moved to charge him in the battery case here on Marco but attorneys for Niblock had be seeking continuances since last year.

Niblock was accused of inappropriate advances against both women who brought complaints against him in addition to allegedly offering them both high paying positions in both Alachua and Collier County.

In the deferred prosecution agreement in Alachua, Niblock, who had previously been both the County Manager in Marion and then in Alachua, agreed to relinquish all professional certifications, attend mental health counseling and write a letter of apology to the Alachua County victim.  He would also pay a fine and donate $150 to a local criminal justice organization or do community service.

No such requirements were listed in the Collier pleading and he only pleaded “no-contest,” in that paperwork.

Lee Niblock addresses city council with his attorney by his side (pictured left). |File Photo

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