Former Marco Island city manager turns himself in to face battery charge
Former Marco Island new city manager Lee Niblock was accused of battery, according to the Marco Island Police Department.
Former Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock turned himself in Thursday after the State Attorney's Office issued a warrant for his arrest on a battery charge.
Collier County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kristine Gill said Niblock was being booked into the Collier jail late Monday afternoon; a jail deputy said Niblock walked in.
Niblock, 64, is accused of making several inappropriate verbal and physical gestures toward Marco Island Academy Principal Melissa Scott in January, including offering her the opportunity to become the city manager once he retired.
In a sworn statement to investigators, Scott stated that after Niblock had driven her home following a Jan. 31 dinner meeting, he "grabbed her so that he could hug her and attempted to kiss her on the lips, but she turned her head and he kissed her on the cheek. Lee then pulled on her and asked for another kiss, but she refused and exited the car."
Scott also told investigators that Niblock said they were a "powerful couple having dinner," she was "the most attractive female in the restaurant" and that she could "pay him with a hug and a kiss" for dinner.
Niblock's attorney, Sawyer Smith, informed the Collier County Sheriff's Office that Niblock would not provide a statement about the battery allegations.
The Marco Island Police Department began its investigation into the battery allegations Feb. 6. That prompted the City Council at its Feb. 20 meeting to place Niblock on leave.
The investigation was turned over to the Collier County Sheriff's Office on Feb. 22.
The City Council voted to fire Niblock on March 19 after City Attorney Alan Gabriel said Niblock had taken four actions that could be cause for termination. They involved his:
- Handling of an employee climate survey.
- Interviewing a female job candidate at a restaurant and ordering wine.
- Demanding that the battery investigation be sent to the highest level of the Sheriff's Office.
- Sending an email that referred to the St. Valentine's Day massacre.
Niblock also was charged in March with battery in a separate incident last year in Alachua County, where he was the county manager. In the August 2017 incident, Jessica Hurova, a prospective employee, accused Niblock of placing his hand on her thigh and lifting the hem of her skirt before trying to kiss her on the lips.
According to court documents, the Alachua County complaint was not filed until March 14, 2018.
The battery case in Alachua County and similarity of details were noted by Collier County investigators in their report.
The incident report also details the involvement of elected officials:
Before the launch of the investigation, Marco Island Academy Chairwoman Jane Watt contacted Councilor Larry Honig on Feb. 2 about the incident.
Honig took notes during his conversation and produced 22 items that he felt were alarming; he confronted Niblock during a meeting on Feb. 5.
Honig told investigators that he advised Watt to contact Marco Island City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni about the incident.
On Feb. 6, Honig contacted Gabriel, the Marco city attorney, about "credible allegations" against Niblock and said Niblock's defense was "completely untenable."
Scott, the Marco Island Academy principal, told investigators that Grifoni had reached out to her on Feb. 6 and advised that she needed to be protected if she wanted to pursue charges.
Scott said Grifoni offered for the city to apologize Feb. 12 but also warned that Niblock might file a defamation lawsuit against her.
Two days later, Scott said the city's legal counsel attempted to have her apologize and accept an apology from Niblock, although he would not provide an admission of guilt.
Scott said that both her personal attorney, Chris Lombardo, and Marco Island Academy attorney Shawn Arnold felt the agreement from the city would jeopardize her employment as the principal.
In an interview with investigators, Grifoni said he was informed of the allegations on Feb. 6 by Watt and that they were of concern to him.
Grifoni acknowledged he spoke with Scott on Feb. 6 and received a call from her father, Michael Hook, the following day in which it was expressed to him that there was pressure from the police department to file a complaint.
Grifoni said his involvement in the case ended on Feb. 16, after Marco Police Chief Al Schettino notified the council via email regarding the investigation.
Grifoni denied seeing the terms of any agreement sent to Scott and denied threatening Marco Island Academy's designation as a hurricane shelter would no longer be a "legislative priority" if Scott did not sign the agreement.
The battery charge carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.