By : Pat Fox for Georgia Weekly Post.
A DeKalb County Magistrate Judge issued an arrest warrant Monday night for a DeKalb GOP official, ruling the man used excessive and improper force to subdue a reporter at a political gathering July 30, 2015.
Henly Shelton, the chairman of the Republican Fabulous 40th, was ordered to surrender to authorities by Wednesday and face charges of assault before the county solicitor.
The ruling by Judge Richard Foxworth came after more than five hours of testimony spanning two hearings – the first in October, then another Jan. 4.
Tony Delmichi, a DeKalb County GOP member and publisher of the online Georgia Weekly Post, filed suit in August, 2015 claiming he was assaulted at the July 30 county GOP meeting after he rose to take a photograph of State Sen. Fran Millar.
A melee erupted after Millar, who is facing a challenge in this year’s primary, shouted for Delmichi to sit down while the photographer was snapping a photo. A picture of the senator extending his hand to block the camera was later published on the Georgia Weekly Post website.
A video taken of the event was reviewed twice by the Judge Monday night. The video shows Millar rising to address
the gathering of about 30 party members, then racing to his left to block the camera, which is out of the frame of the video. The senator then shouts for Delmichi to “Sit! Sit! Sit!”
A copy of the video can be viewed on the Post website,
Delmichi responds to Millar by yelling back that the senator was “out of order.” At that point, Shelton rises from his seat at the back of the room, yelling for Delmichi to "Sit your butt down.” Delmichi ignores the directive and continues telling Millar that he is out of order. Shelton then moves to the front, taking Delmichi, who is in his 70s, by the arms. Delmichi resists, and the two struggle until they are broken apart by DeKalb GOP Chairman Brian Anderson.
In pronouncing his decision Monday, Foxworth said he regretted that Delmichi and Shelton couldn’t work out their differences before involving the court. He gave both men and their attorneys two opportunities Monday night to resolve the matter outside of court, once at the beginning of the hearing and again before he pronounced judgement.
During those negotiations, Shelton and his attorney, Catherine Bernard, proposed an apology, but Delmichi and his attorney, Steve Curlee, insisted that it be in writing. That condition was rejected.
“Here we are again,” Foxwoth said when both parties returned to the courtroom at deadlock. “I’ve given you every opportunity for this to be done.”
The judge then told Delmichi that he didn’t believe his injuries, both physical and emotional, were so severe that it warranted legal action. But, turning to Shelton, he said there was no excuse for the force he exhibited at the GOP meeting and that, based on the video, there was probable cause to warrant an arrest.
“What you did is not right, period,” he told Shelton. “What I saw was totally uncalled for.”
The case now goes before the county solicitor who must determine whether there is enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an assault took place.
The judge also said that the true instigator of the melee was Millar, and that Shelton’s attention to restore order at the meeting should have been directed at the senator. He also stressed that Shelton expressed no remorse during his testimony at the hearing earlier in the evening.
Shelton had testified that he was only trying to restore order and that he never intended harm. The only time he grabbed Delmichi, he said, was when he feared the older man might fall as he was being moved back to his seat.
“In no way did I intend to harm him,” Shelton testified.
Shelton was also bolstered by testimony from GOP friends and colleagues.
Jim Redovian, a board member of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association who was not at the July 30 meeting, testified that Delmichi had a reputation for speaking out of turn and that his behavior sometimes bordered on disruptive.
Dwight Hawksworth testified that he was familiar with Shelton’s practices as the chairman of the Fabulous 40th, a GOP political group in the state’s 40th Senate District. He called Shelton a Vietnam war hero and said he always found him to be professional.
Foxworth ruled that observations made based on behavior at other meetings were irrelevant. He was interested only in the behavior at the July 30 meeting.
Monday’s hearing drew coverage from three local news outlets, including
Nydia Tisdale who produces an online watchdog site, https://shar.es/166S2M
and Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Bill Torpy. https://shar.es/166S2M
Following the hearing, Bernard said she was shocked by the judge’s decision and that his interpretation of events of the July 30 meeting were not accurate.
Shelton, standing with his attorney after the hearing, said he had always been willing to admit that he could have handled the incident better.
“I was willing to say ‘Tony, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it occurred.’”
Delmichi said he never sought to have Shelton sent to jail. At the same time, he added, the ruling served as some redress for the humiliation he suffered as a working member of the press and as a dues-paying member of the county GOP.
He said he also questioned the sincerity of Shelton’s willingness to apologize, saying it came only after the threat of legal action.
He said he sought to photograph Millar out of fairness because he had snapped shots of two other candidates earlier at the same meeting. As a result of the incident, he said, his camera was damaged and he was physically sore.
He said all he ever wanted was an apology, but that contrition should be expressed in as public a manner as his humiliation -- in writing.
“The time for an apology should have been then and there – at the July 30th meeting,” he said. “It should never have come to this.”