Spanish Fort Mayor Michael McMillan, who was reelected last week to a third term in office, was found not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of harassment in Baldwin County District Court today.
McMillan had been accused by former city magistrate Lindsey Cooper of slapping her during an argument in City Hall on Oct. 1, 2019.
During testimony, Cooper said she voluntarily took on a project to redesign the city’s website and worked on it for four to five months before it was handed over to a new employee. On Oct. 1 last year, she logged on to the new website to check its progress and discovered all her previous work had been deleted.
Cooper was discussing it with front desk receptionist Carroll Caldwell when McMillan approached, asking why they appeared to be upset. Cooper explained her conceptual website had essentially been deleted, so McMillan allegedly approached the new employee, Heather Allen, to determine what happened.
McMillan returned to Cooper and Caldwell a short time later and attempted to provide them with a new URL for the site, and in doing so, he swiped his finger on a computer monitor that was not equipped with touchscreen technology. Cooper alleged McMillan became angry when she laughed at him, telling her to “shut up” and slapping her.
Caldwell was on the other side of McMillan and did not personally witness the alleged slap, but she testified that when she next saw Cooper’s face, tears were welling up in her eyes. Cooper said she was not physically injured by the slap and it left no marks, and both employees said they were upset when McMillan further said he gave the website redesign job to Allen because Allen had a college degree, but Cooper and Caldwell did not.
According to testimony, Cooper did not mention the allegation to her immediate supervisor, City Clerk Mary Lynn Williams, until Oct. 3 and even then, simply claimed the mayor “was waving his hands in her face.” The day before, Cooper admitted she lied to another employee to gain access to the city’s security camera system and when she did, Cooper and another coworker, Ashley Tucker, reviewed the footage while Tucker recorded it on her personal cell phone.
The footage was leaked online nine months later – at the height of the mayoral race – by Cooper’s cousin, attorney Jason Hadley. It appears to show McMillan raising his hand toward Cooper’s face, but does not show any clear evidence he made forceful contact.
McMillan himself testified and alleged he is known for “talking with his hands.” He said all three of them laughed when he attempted to swipe the static computer screen, and his hand motion toward Cooper was simply an acknowledgement of his computer illiteracy.
Allegedly, when McMillan made the comment about Cooper not having a college degree, Cooper responded by telling the mayor to assign all of her other ancillary duties to Allen, but McMillan raised his voice and told Cooper she would do everything he asked of her.
At one point during McMillan’s testimony, defense attorney Donald Briskman played the video frame by frame and had McMillan narrate it. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Doggett argued Cooper had everything to lose by filing the charge, but she did what she thought was right.
The video “clearly shows the defendant rising up, opening his hand and going toward Lindsey’s face,” Doggett said in closing arguments. Harassment by legal definition is the “intent to harass, annoy or alarm” a victim if someone “strikes, kicks, shoves or touches” another individual, regardless of how forceful.
Doggett accused McMillan of embellishing “a jovial laugh-fest” and argued “everything is consistent with what [witnesses] are saying and the video is the most objective thing we have.”
The alleged slap “alarmed [Cooper] enough to stop laughing,” he said. “You can watch this video 100 times and I don’t know how anyone can believe he’s simply ‘talking with his hands.’”
Judge James Reid, who is retired but was appointed to the case when all other judges in the circuit recused, said “the evidence is somewhat persuasive either way,” but was also contradictory. It was a bench trial without a jury, so he would render the verdict.
“So what does the court do? You have to fall back on law,” he said. “The state is not required to convince guilt beyond all doubt, but beyond all reasonable doubt. I have to say in this case, because of the contradictory nature of evidence, my mind is left in the condition where I cannot say the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, so I find the defendant not guilty.”