A draft agreement to end a Deltona woman’s 3-year-old legal claim against City Hall failed to end the dispute, because of a last-minute addition to what had been negotiated.
In 2018, a Deltona city employee made a criminal complaint against Brandy White after White, legally, filmed a video of a meeting with that employee.
Ultimately, the State Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against White, but the felony criminal complaint stayed on her record and complicated White’s attempt to adopt a child. She threatened to sue the city.
At a meeting March 1, the Deltona City Commission had been poised to act on a proposed settlement with White. But the city attorney had added a sixth clause to the agreement, which had been negotiated earlier, requiring White to drop any further claims against the city.
White couldn’t agree.
“When he brought that wording, No. 6, I couldn’t sign it,” White told The Beacon. “We didn’t put that in there, because I did not waive my right to file other suits.”
In February, the Deltona City Commission had directed Acting City Manager John Peters and City Attorney Skip Fowler to meet with White and negotiate an agreement that would end White’s claim over the criminal charge, even though other legal questions remained.
The result of the talks between the city’s leaders and White had resulted in a five-point agreement:
Deltona would issue a letter apologizing for the wrongful criminal charge against White and admit the city’s actions had “caused mental distress.”
City officials would develop a process for citizens to make complaints against charter officers, namely the city manager and the city attorney, and agree to file no charges against citizens without informing them of those charges and their rights.
Deltona would agree to “pay for up to one year of mental health counseling” for White and her family.
City leaders will support state legislation to ban erroneous reporting of criminal charges against citizens by the State Attorney’s Office to the Clerk of the Court’s Office.
If such state legislation comes forth, Deltona will pay the cost of expunging the criminal record against White.
And, the unforeseen sixth point: “This is the full and complete settlement of all claims that Ms. White may have against the City of Deltona regarding the 3 April 2018 event.”
Conspicuous by its absence is any compensation for White. She has told the City Commission repeatedly that she is not seeking to enrich herself or burden Deltona’s taxpayers with a large payout of cash damages for the trouble she endured. Yet, White has not ruled out seeking some monetary damages for the anguish she suffered.
She suggested March 1 a payment of $100 per day for each of the 180 days between the time she was first accused of a crime and the decision by the State Attorney’s Office not to prosecute her. That adds up to a payment of $18,000.
“It covers the days for the misleading criminal report that was following me around,” White said, adding there should be some compensation for “the hell I was drug through.”
“For 180 days, I had to walk around worrying about when I would be arrested,” she also told the City Commission.
White said she decided on the $100-per-day figure based on code enforcement, as people violating city ordinances may be fined that amount to bring them into compliance. If city officials do something wrong, she reasoned, “they should have to pay $100 a day.”
“Frankly, we never heard the $100-a-day,” Fowler said.
White also said she felt she should receive at least $100,000 in damages.
White submitted claims for damages to the city’s insurance company, because of actions taken at the behest of then-City Manager Jane Shang, and to the county’s carrier, because of actions taken by the Sheriff’s Office. In both cases, her requests were rejected.
“We felt like a fair compensation would be the counseling,” Peters said.
The City Commission could order compensation for White and appropriate funds for that purpose.
“I don’t see what Brandy is asking for is out of line,” Commissioner Dana McCool said.
“It is my position that this commission does not negotiate from the dais,” Mayor Heidi Herzberg said, agreeing that the matter should be referred to Manager Peters and attorney Fowler for further negotiations with White.
The commission unanimously called for further talks among the three.
Even if there is a settlement of the issues relating to the April 3, 2018, incident at City Hall, White has not ruled out filing additional civil rights suits against Shang and the city.
White said she is preparing to sue for suppression of her First Amendment rights to speak out on city issues and for her right to petition for a redress of grievances. She further claims her 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law was not protected. Such a suit, White said, may be filed in the U.S. District Court in Orlando.
How the trouble unfolded
On April 3, 2018, Brandy White had gone to City Hall to make a public-records request. She encountered Finance Director Camille Hooper in the lobby of the second floor of the building, and White electronically recorded the meeting. The two women met in a public area.
Under the law, anyone may record or film what takes place in publicly accessible areas, inside or outside. Hooper claimed the recording activity had been done without her permission, and therefore was illegal.
Hooper, according to statements given to public officials, objected to the recording and complained to then-City Manager Jane Shang.
Hooper subsequently made a complaint to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, which serves as Deltona’s police agency.
Unbeknownst to White at the time, deputies referred the recording incident to the State Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution as a third-degree felony.
Although the State Attorney’s Office later determined the charge was unfounded and dropped the case, White later discovered, when she applied to adopt a child, that she had been accused of a crime regarding the April 3 event. Eventually, she was able to adopt a child.
Even though the State Attorney’s Office had decided not to prosecute White, the Volusia County Clerk of the Court’s Office had a record of the accusation against her.
“The charge had a case number and a judge assigned,” White said. “They created a case number even though there was no charge.”
White later made her legal claim against the city, alleging Shang and Hooper had wrongly damaged her reputation and caused mental anguish.
That distress stemmed in part, White said, from the uncertainty between the time when she first took action to clear her name and the end of the 180-day period when the State Attorney’s Office reviewed the charge and declined to prosecute it.
White continued to attend Deltona City Commission meetings, and she regularly addressed the commissioners. She urged the commission and Shang to admit and apologize for damaging her name.
She warned she would sue the city for ruining her reputation and for violating her civil rights, unless Deltona officials publicly acknowledged their wrongdoing.
At one point, White went to Deltona City Hall with a notice of her intent to sue the city, a notice required by law when planning to sue a governmental entity. White attempted to give the notice to Shang, by tossing it into Shang’s car as Shang was leaving work. Shang tossed the notice back, leaving it on the ground in the parking lot as she pulled away.