Bainbridge councilwoman sought to have two citizens banned from city hall

As controversy raged over Bainbridge Island City Councilwoman Rasham Nassar’s lack of permits for development activity on her island property, recently released public records show she sought a court order to have two of her most vocal critics banned from city hall and council meetings.

Public records obtained by the Review this week also detail that Nassar — claiming her personal safety was at risk — asked city officials to increase the number of police officers in council chambers, and also asked the city attorney about getting a “leave of absence” from her position on the city council.

Records indicate Nassar sought advice from the city attorney on “potential criminal violations” by two residents who had filed ethics complaints and public records requests that centered on Nassar.

Center of the storm

Nassar has been under a continuing cloud of controversy for the past year, following media reports of illegal development on her island property.

The first-term councilwoman is also currently the focus of a Superior Court lawsuit that alleges Nassar and city officials improperly withheld public records.

Nassar, in city records and court documents, claimed she was being stalked, harassed and threatened by two islanders who have been outspoken observers of Nassar’s work on land-use issues: David Dunn and Brian Wilkinson.

Dunn, a former detective for the Seattle Police Department, and Brian Wilkinson, a Bainbridge firefighter, are currently suing the city and allege officials failed to adequately respond to requests for public records from Nassar’s personal cellphone.

Documents released over the past week — in response to a public records request made by the Review six months ago — detail attempts by Nassar in the first weeks that followed news of the permit scandal to paint Dunn and Wilkinson as “threatening and intimidating” and to get them banned from city hall.

The pair became Nassar’s most vocal public critics after unpermitted development on the councilwoman’s property came to public light in January 2019. In an email to the city soon after, Dunn said elected officials should follow the same rules faced by property owners, and called for an independent investigation into Nassar’s permitting troubles. And, as part of a group called Bainbridge Island Citizens for Ethical Government, Dunn and Wilkinson sent a letter to the city manager, city attorney and other officials that recounted how the city ramped up its regulations on land development for island properties, and asked the council to hold Nassar accountable after she had repeatedly violated “the strict legislation she promoted as good for the rest of us.”

Bainbridge Island Citizens for Ethical Government noted public records that had shown development of her property between 2015 and 2018, work that extended into a regulated wetland buffer, as well as driveway improvements and tree removal and other activity that was done without permits.

Silencing the opposition

Recently released public records show that Nassar contacted City Attorney Joe Levan to ask about potential criminal activity by Dunn and Wilkinson that would violate state laws about intimidating a public servant.

Those discussions came in the week following the Jan. 8 council meeting where Dunn had spoken during the public comment session about the code compliance complaint against Nassar and controversial land-use decisions made by the council that were decided by a single vote. Wilkinson also spoke during the comment session, and expressed concerns about land-use decisions made by the council during the past year. (Later during the meeting, the council briefly addressed the code compliance complaint against Nassar.)

Documents also show Nassar repeatedly contacted then-police chief Matthew Hamner to report “threatening and suspicious behavior” by Wilkinson and share concerns about her “personal safety and that of my family” after Dunn filed a public records request that sought information on code violations on her property late last year.

Hamner, according to a summary of communications between the councilwoman and the chief that was provided by the city, repeatedly suggested that Nassar get a restraining order against Dunn if she thought he was stalking her.

In one of her last conversations with Hamner, three days before he resigned to take a job in Banning, California, Nassar told the chief that the accusations made by Dunn and Wilkinson created “a very real and immediate threat to my personal safety and that of members of my family, as well [as] interfered with my ability to perform in my official capacities as a council member, and has also interfered with my ability to function as a member of our community.”

Since news reports of the unpermitted development on her property, Nassar said she had been “aggressively confronted by members of the public; while at school with my son, and again while at Westside Pizza with my infant.”

After news reports were shared on social media, she wrote she felt “intimidated to the point where I feel I can no longer perform my duties as a councilmember.”

Nassar also claimed Dunn had trespassed on her private property and was stalking her.

In the summary of her communication with Hamner, she said the chief suggested she should follow through on getting a restraining order.

It turned out to be bad advice.

Day in court

Nassar filed two petitions for anti-harassment protection orders Jan. 16 in Kitsap County District Court, three days after her talk with Hamner.

The councilwoman asked a judge for a court order that would keep Wilkinson 500 feet away from city hall and her home. She also asked that he not be allowed to attend city council meetings.

A second petition was also filed by Nassar against Dunn.

Judge Jeffrey J. Jahns dismissed both requests the same day, citing a “lack of proof.”

In his order of denial, the judge noted that a person has a constitutional right to walk on public property, including sidewalks and streets, including in residential areas.

“[Nassar’s] speculation that [Dunn] must have trespassed on her residence property is just that — speculation. No evidence in support of her allegation that [Dunn] did trespass on her property was presented.”

Jahns also strongly pushed back on her request that Dunn be banned from council meetings or city hall.

“[Dunn] has a First Amendment constitutional right to petition government for the redress of grievances,” Jahns wrote in his decision. “This right to petition, along with the constitutional right to freedom of speech, are bedrock principles under the American system of government.”

“[Nassar] is seeking a prior restraint order, banning [Dunn] from petitioning Bainbridge Island government for redress of any grievances he may have with city government now or in the future.”

“A judicial order placing a prior restraint on a First Amendment right is the most serious and least tolerable infringement on the First Amendment,” the judge added.

Hatred and humiliation

In a letter to the court, Nassar said she was being retaliated against for the way she has voted as a councilmember. Included with her letter was a timeline that claimed “threatening and intimidating behavior” by Dunn and Wilkinson.

“I cannot speculate the extent and frequency in which Mr. Dunn has visited my private property home to monitor our personal and private activity, nor can I guess the extent and frequency in which he has trespassed across our property line. From the timeline provided to you it is readily apparent that Mr. David Dunn has invested an extraordinary amount of time, resources, and energy to concoct a misleading and inaccurate version of events that convolute personal information obtained through cyber investigation, visits to my farm and home, and public records, in obvious retaliation for progressive environmental legislation I helped support while on the city council,” Nassar wrote in a court statement released by the city.

She said her votes on new regulations that restrict development on the island were “behind these personal attacks and progressive harassment.”

“The public hatred and humiliation I’ve suffered as a result of legislation I supported in my official capacity as a Bainbridge Island City Councilmember has at this point caused a very serious, and I believe deliberate, interference with my ability to perform on the city council,” she wrote.

She also said Levan, the city attorney, “reassured me that my votes for past legislation could neither be repealed nor revoked; my personal property is my personal business.”

Nassar also asked the court to consider laws that protect officials from intimidation when considering her request for an immediate order of protection.

Claims disputed

Nassar would not comment in detail about the records recently released by the city.

“This matter has been referred to the police. As the investigation is active and ongoing, and due to continued concerns for my family’s safety I cannot comment further at this time,” Nassar said in an email to the Review Tuesday.

Dunn disputed Nassar’s claims that he had threatened or intimidated her, and said he just learned of her attempt to get an anti-harassment order.

“I didn’t know about it until two weeks ago,” Dunn said Wednesday.

He said he had never walked past her house, and that the information in his complaint about unpermitted work on her property — specifically, a fence near her well house — was made based on Google aerial photographs of her property.

“I have never been on the property,” Dunn said, adding that he never took photographs of her property, either.

He called the councilwoman’s claims “completely false.”

“The attempt to get us barred from city hall is shocking to the senses,” Dunn said, but quickly added that the city’s attempt to “stifle our First Amendment rights” was also alarming.

As far as a police investigation into the claims goes, he said: “We’ve never been contacted by law enforcement.”

A scary glare

Public records released by the city — sought by the Review since March — shed new light on Nassar’s response to the public outcry that arose at the start of this year after news reports in January of unpermitted work on her property.

City officials had learned nearly a year earlier that there were potential code violations on the councilwoman’s property, but Nassar’s permitting troubles only gained media notice after Dunn asked for an update from city officials in early January about the code compliance case being pursued against Nassar.

City officials began investigating complaints about work done without permits on property owned by Nassar and her husband in early 2018.

One complaint centered on “an unpermitted structure in a wetland buffer being used as living space,” which would have violated the city’s critical areas ordinance. The couple were given a “Warning of Violation & Order to Correct,” and were told to stop all work in environmentally sensitive “critical areas” on their property. They were also ordered to apply for and obtain permits for the work that had been done on their land, and to also submit a restoration plan to the city.

Nassar and her husband, Trenton Riely-Gibbons, however, did not apply for permits until the city threatened additional legal action, according to public records previously released by the city.

Court records show Nassar compiled two documents in the days before her court appearance on the anti-harassment order; a two-page “record and summary of communication with Police Chief Matt Hamner” and a two-page document titled “Timeline and events pertaining to threatening and intimidating behavior by Mr. David Dunn and Mr. Brian Wilkinson.”

On her petition for an order for protection (harassment), the petition notes that “unlawful harassment” is defined as “a knowing and willful course of conduct” that would “actually cause substantial emotional distress” in “a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time.”

The petition form adds: “Constitutionally protected activities, including free speech, are not included within the meaning of ‘course of conduct.’”

In the petition, Nassar described the harassment as Dunn’s submittal of a complaint about her property “that included a fact that could only be known by trespassing over our property line” and said her husband had seen Dunn “standing on our property line and peering in.”

She also noted Dunn’s presence at a council meeting the week before was “both intimidating and threatening to me.”

Nassar’s second anti-harassment order against Wilkinson described that harassing behavior as Wilkinson’s presence at a September council meeting where he was seen “glaring at council members.” At a council meeting in January 2019, Nassar added, Wilkinson was “posturing to threaten and intimidate me.”

The incidents left her “intimidated, threatened and frightened for my personal well-being, mental and emotional health and safety,” she wrote.

The judge denied both requests for an anti-harassment order and dismissed both cases in January 2019.

Records lawsuit continues

The public records lawsuit based on Nassar’s use of her cell phone for city business is still pending in Kitsap County Superior Court.

Dunn and Wilkinson filed their lawsuit after the city supplied public records to Dunn — in the form of text messages from Nassar’s phone — but Dunn then noticed that messages from Nassar appeared to be missing from Jan. 2, 2018 through June 21, 2018.

Nassar later said such records couldn’t be retrieved because her cell phone was destroyed after her 2-year-old son soaked it in a can of olives during a family visit to California.

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