Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
The trial of Jesse Lee ended before it even started.
The vocal and outspoken critic of the Gulfport Police Department and city government, was slated to go to trial Oct. 20 on a felony battery on law enforcement charge.
Lee, 40, was accused of throwing and striking Gulfport Police Commander Joshua Stone with CD outside city hall in July 2021 after becoming upset because the disk, which contained public records, did not work.
But Lee opted to plead guilty to the charge after Pinellas Circuit Court Judge William Burgess granted state attorney’s motions before the trial limiting defense options.
Rick Fletcher, an attorney representing Lee, told Burgess he wanted to argue Lee did not intend to hit Stone with CD. Fletcher also wanted to present testimony outlining Lee’s contentious relationship with city police as helping to explain the incident with Stone.
“The defense is lack of intent,” said Fletcher, in response to prosecutor’s motions.
Burgess disagreed saying the case is center on the interactions between Lee and Stone and whether he committed the alleged charge.
“The Gulfport PD is not on trial. The City of Gulfport is not on trial,” Burgess said.
That would have left potential jurors seeing a video of a combative and agitated Lee, who is known for his sometimes discourteous language.
The judge’s ruling resulted in Fletcher and Lee conferring outside the courtroom in Clearwater.
Lee opted to plead guilty to the felony battery charge rather than go to trial.
Burgess sentenced the Gulfport man, who has battled with the city over permits for his mobile ice cream cart, to one-day “administrative probation” as well as court costs and other fees totaling $550. That includes a $100 payment to the state attorney office and $91.47 to the Gulfport Police Department for some costs related to the case.
The judge shot down a state attorney’s request for a mental health evaluation for Lee. He told Lee to stay away from city hall and also conferred with Stone after the plea and sentence.
The Gulfport man is already restricted from the city hall area and city council chambers after argument with officers and city officials, sometimes over city permitting rules.
Lee has written a letter of apology to Stone. The GPD commander said Lee has still had some contentious interactions with officers.
Stone told the court he has compassion for Lee.
“I have nothing but sympathy for Mr. Lee,” Stone told the court.
Fletcher, who was Lee’s fourth attorney in the case, said the plea and administrative probation also allows Lee to avoid a formal conviction.
“Although todays outcome was not the result we wanted to achieve, it allows Mr. Lee to avoid a formal conviction and keep intact his civil rights as a voting citizen of this county. Mr. Lee will soon tell his complete side of the story, but in light of the Court’s rulings, which Mr. Lee respectfully accepts, it won’t be today,” Fletcher told The Gabber. “I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to represent Mr. Lee in these proceedings and wish him nothing but the best.”
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