A drunken Bradenton City Council member got into a physical confrontation with a volunteer at the Desoto Seafood Festival on Friday evening and was kicked out of the event, according to a Palmetto police report.
City council member Bill Sanders was “drunk and starting problems. He’s kicked out of here,” the report states.
Sanders, who was elected last year, was not arrested, and on Monday he denied the police account of what happened.
“That’s not how it went down,” Sanders said.
Friday was opening night of the festival, which grew a large crowd for the night’s headliner, Pitbull Toddler.
The police report states that several Desoto volunteers said Sanders was letting people into a VIP area just south of the stage who were not properly credentialed. Desoto’s Terry Wilson was in charge of the VIP section and approached Sanders to tell him to stop.
“I sat there and watched him do it,” Wilson said Monday. “I watched him open the gate for people, and I didn’t know who he was at the time, but I went up to him and said, ‘Hey, you can’t let any people in here.”
Wilson said Sanders then poked him in the chest and said, “Do you know who I am?”
“I said I didn’t, but this is our event,” Wilson said. “He was cussing me up and down. He finally asked me who I was, and I think it snapped that he doesn’t like me.”
Sanders said Monday he wasn’t letting anyone into the VIP area .
“They were coming in and I was just standing there listening to the music,” Sanders said. “And this guy runs up, pointing his finger at me and actually hit me in the cheek with his finger because he got nose to nose with me. He said he was going to kick me out and kick my (butt). I said, ‘Oh no you aren’t,’ and grabbed him by the shirt, pushed him back and told him don’t ever threaten me again.”
Both Sanders and Wilson said they didn’t recognize one another right away, but the two have a history. Sanders filed a criminal complaint against Wilson during his 2018 campaign to unseat Bemis Smith, saying that Wilson had threatened his sister on Facebook, a charge that was never substantiated.
The campaign was wrought with controversy with Sanders calling Smith’s campaign a “criminal empire.” At one point, Sanders publicly accusing Smith of cutting his brake lines, though police disputed that claim, as well.
Sanders said Wilson had been “stalking” him all night.
“I guess he just hadn’t gotten over the election,” Sanders said. “He made up some excuse to threaten me, I guess. When the police asked if I wanted to press charges, I said sure. They told me that he didn’t, and I asked why would he? The cop said well you grabbed him and I said, ‘Yeah, I have the right to defend myself. ‘He said if either one of us wanted to press charges, we’d both go to jail, so I let it go.”
Wilson said he did not react to Sanders grabbing him and poking him in the chest. He checked with the event’s primary sponsor, a law firm, just to make sure Sanders was not connected with the firm before having Sanders removed.
“I told him he was out of here and he grabbed me and started with the ‘Do you know who I am’ stuff, but of course I’m not going to do anything when I’m involved with Desoto,” Wilson said.
Sanders left the immediate area and it was then he was approached by the officer leading the investigation.
Police noted that all of the Desoto staff members involved were sober, while Sanders, “was intoxicated by his flushed skin tone, profuse sweating and strong odor of alcoholic beverages coming from his person,” the report states.
Once Sanders left the park area, one officer wanted to make sure he had a ride home. The officer reported that Sanders was initially polite, but went from “polite to agitated.”
Sanders yelled to the officer, “I’m not going to jail,” and the officer informed Sanders that had the employee pressed charges, he would have indeed gone to jail.
Police remained concerned that Sanders intended to drive after believing him to be intoxicated so officers tried to initiate contact with Sanders again but reported he got “lost” in the crowd of those people leaving the venue. They tried to ensure Sanders was not driving, but the councilman could not be located.
One officer did report seeing Sanders’s vehicle leaving the area, but police were unable to locate it. Sanders said he drove that night, but he denied being drunk.
Since no one wanted to press charges, a criminal complaint was not filed, but the incident was documented.
“The whole thing was seen by several people,” Wilson said. “He is a pathological liar and once I realized who it was, I turned the whole thing over to another person. I was out of it at that point.”
As to the future?
“(Sanders) is not invited back to anything Desoto,” Wilson said.