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ACLU has harsh words for councilman accused of threat

ACLU has harsh words for councilman accused of threat

By Mike Mason. CREATED May 9, 2012 - UPDATED: May 9, 2012

FORT MYERS - State Attorney, Steve Russell’s office, decides not to press charges against a city councilman accused of threatening a community activist. Tonight, the Executive Director of Florida's ACLU has some harsh words for councilman Forrest Banks. Four in your Corner's Mike Mason has been following the story and is here now with the latest.

The State Attorney says the threat Forrest Banks made doesn't rise to the level of a crime but the ACLU says the councilman should still be held responsible.

Howard Simon is the Executive Director of Florida's American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU. He has harsh words for councilman Banks, who's accused of threatening a community activist.

Howard Simon: "He may have evaded criminal responsibility for making a threat of violence but I think the voters need to hold him accountable."

The ACLU is known for defending free speech but feels Banks' alleged threat crossed the line.

Howard Simon: "Race infects so much in American politics and the American legal system, it's naïve to say that there's not some element of that here as well."

Last month, activist Anthony Thomas announced plans to organize a petition drive to recall Banks from his council seat.  On April 2nd, Banks' assistant reports hearing the councilman say if Thomas did that then, “He (Thomas) will end up in a ditch somewhere.”

Mike Mason: "Saying that somebody should end up in a ditch somewhere?"
Forrest Banks: "Figure of speech, just talking."

Howard Simon: "He might be using a figure of speech but it was really an irresponsible and reprehensible use of a figure of speech."

Banks spoke with us when the Sheriff began investigating but now refuses to comment.

Mike Mason: "Mr. Banks, can I ask you a quick question?”
Forrest Banks: "No, no, no."
 
The State Attorney reviewed the Sheriff's investigation and issued a letter, saying in part: "A statement threatening to do injury at some unspecified future time based upon a possible eventuality does not constitute a crime and therefore cannot be prosecuted."

Willie Green: "The Sheriff did his job, he should of did his."

Willie Green is President of the civil rights group, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC. He says if the State Attorney won't take action, he'll find someone who will.

Willie Green: "Governor Scott can change the whole thing with a swipe of a pen."
Mike Mason: "What do you want him to do?"
Willie Green: "Suspend him."

Green wrote a letter to the Governor last week asking him to remove Banks from city council. Meanwhile, Green says he's planning to protest at Fort Myers City Hall if Banks doesn't step down in the next couple of weeks.