NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) – North Port Police responded to calls of a potential physical altercation at a local polling site at Biscayne Plaza earlier this week. Fortunately — the altercation never got physical, but it was heated.
“We got a number of units over there pretty quickly. We were able to get all the parties separated, kind of get their versions of their interpretation of the situation. The property owner thankfully decided he didn’t need to trespass anyone if they could behave and everybody calm down,” said North Port PD Public Information Officer Josh Taylor.
The verbal confrontation took place under the red Republican Party tent after someone took political signs and a magnet off someone else’s car.
“Apparently there was a confrontation about signs being removed from the vehicle that may or may not have been within the 150 feet of a polling location. We have one side saying they were doing it to keep the car from being towed, you have one side saying it was perfectly fine where it was at,” said Taylor. “As far as our involvement, we didn’t really care –we just wanted to make sure that people weren’t physically fighting at a polling location,” he continued.
Current North Port City Commissioner and county commission candidate Chris Hanks captured part of the altercation on his cell phone.
“One of the county elections employees drove up and asked someone there that she either needed to remove her signs or they were going to tow the car and the person that was there didn’t want her car towed, so they just pulled the signs off and put them on the side of her car. When she pulled up, she saw that there were no signs there, so she flipped out,” said Hanks.
Conni Brunni is the woman you see in the video. She says she went out of her way earlier that day to ensure her car was parked legally.
“I had checked with them in the morning and I had been in my vehicle from 5 AM to 9:20 AM so there was plenty of time if there were any issues for something to have been addressed because the SOE’s office was already open,” said Brunni. “Then there was this thing in the afternoon and they said, if your car was in the place it was this morning, it is perfectly fine,” she continued.
8 On Your Side contacted the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office for a response regarding the incident. Communications and Voter Outreach Manager Rachel Denton sent us this statement:
“Florida law designates the election no-solicitation area to be 150 feet from the entrance to any early voting site or polling location. The no-solicitation area is marked with signage outside of each early voting site or polling location. Regarding the North Port early voting site, elections staff found no encroachment issues relating to solicitation and, therefore, took no action. Further, the supervisor of elections does not have legal authority over the area outside of the 150-feet no-solicitation zone.“
Brunni supports Ron Cutsinger, a candidate in the race for District Five Sarasota County Commissioner. Hanks is his direct opponent.
Both sides argue the incident was personal.
“They admitted to me that they had done it, but they were trying to tell me that they were doing me a favor. Every person in that tent has my telephone number and has talked to me by phone, but not one single person phoned me to suggest that there was anything wrong. This was a set up. It is political season. This was done to make political hay for the opponent of the person that I am supporting. This has become personal. It is a personal vendetta and it is unfortunate,” said Brunni.
“She is a very active staff member of my opponent and so it has become pretty heated from her side of it, I guess because of that. I know that part of the biggest problem that we are seeing now, nationally down all the way down to locally, is it has gotten away from policy politics and we have gotten into personality politics,” said Hanks.
North Port officers did not charge anyone at the scene.
“They obviously have some conflicting views on the future of our area politically and unfortunately it got a little out of hand,” said Taylor. “I’m sure the people that are involved wish it didn’t happen at all. Sometimes things just get out of hand,” he continued.