Kansas City Councilman Brandon Ellington found guilty of assaulting a political foe
A judge on Friday found Kansas City Councilman Brandon Ellington guilty of a municipal assault charge stemming from a March 20 encounter he had with a political adversary.
Ronald Johnson, a Grandview municipal judge who was appointed to handle the case after Kansas City judges recused themselves, heard testimony for about three hours. Johnson gave Ellington a 30-day suspended sentence and ordered the first-term councilman to serve one year of probation and pay a $500 fine.
Ellington and his lawyer, Bert Godding, said they plan to file an appeal.
“Completely shocked when you have witnesses (whose) testimony doesn’t even correspond,” Ellington said after the judge’s ruling.
Kansas City police issued Ellington a summons for a municipal assault charge on April 2, days after Ellington allegedly confronted and physically poked lobbyist Rodney Bland in the chest in front of Soiree Steak and Oyster House in the 18th & Vine District the evening of March 20.
Bland, 64, testified that he went out in downtown Kansas City with friends and family the evening of March 20 to celebrate the wedding anniversary of his sister and brother-in-law. Bland said after dinner at Bristol Seafood Grill, the party moved to the 18th & Vine District.
Bland said that as he approached the entrance of Soiree, Ellington confronted Bland in a profanity-laced tirade.
Bland is the president of Freedom Inc., a historic Black political club in Kansas City. Freedom opposed Ellington’s candidacy for the Kansas City Council and donated money to a separate political action committee in 2019 that ran political advertisements that Ellington on Friday called a “smear campaign.”
Bland testified that Ellington told him “If you (expletive) keep (expletive) with me, you’re going to see what happens next.”
Bland said Ellington repeatedly poked him in the chest during the tirade.
Ross Nigro, a special Kansas City prosecutor appointed to the case after other city prosecutors recused themselves, asked Bland if the poking caused any pain.
“Humiliation,” Bland replied.
Bland said Ellington appeared to be upset by an article that had run in The Call, a newspaper serving Kansas City’s Black community, weeks before the counter. Bland said he had no involvement in the article.
Other witnesses testified in support of Bland’s version of events.
Bland’s significant other, Olufemi Sharp, said Ellington approached the party and was rambling as Bland and others were preparing to enter Soiree.
“He was acting very psychotic,” said Sharp, who added she’s a licensed clinical therapist. “And I’m trained to detect these things.”
Pamela Bland, Rodney Bland’s sister, testified that Ellington said, “These (expletive) don’t know who they’re messing with; heads are going to roll.”
The incident happened on a Saturday, but no calls were made to police until Bland visited a police station the following Monday to file a report.
In his closing argument, Godding suggested that the gap in time between the incident and the police report was used for Bland and others to get their stories straight. Godding said there were inconsistencies and contradictions in the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses.
Ellington testified that he tried to call police to give his version of events, but that a Kansas City Police Department detective would not take his statement. Ellington said he did not learn that he was charged with assault until he received a phone call about it from a Kansas City Star reporter.
According to Ellington’s version of events, Bland approached him near Soiree. But as Bland attempted to start a conversation, Ellington testified that he told Bland, “I don’t (expletive) with you,” adding later “I promise I’m going to remove you (Freedom) from the community like the parasites you are.”
Ellington testified that did not touch Bland and made no threats.
“Except publicly exposing them factually,” Ellington said.
Ellington also disputed testimony from Bland and others that he had a gun holstered to his right hip.
Ellington said the night of March 20 he was not armed and instead had a cell phone clipped to his belt. In court, Ellington had the phone — a silver, shiny device — on his right hip.
Ellington on Friday did not hide his animosity for Freedom, which he said has been antagonistic to his political career when he served in the Missouri General Assembly. He said Freedom has opposed him in all six of his campaigns.
In the most recent campaign in 2019, Freedom sent money to another political action committee called Concerned Citizens of Waldo. Concerned Citizens of Waldo then released a negative political mail piece that was offensive enough that Ellington’s opponent in the 2019 election for Kansas City’s 3rd District at-large seat, Wallace Hartzfield, denounced it to a columnist for the Kansas City Star.
Kansas City’s 3rd council district is generally bound by Troost Avenue on the west, Independence Avenue to the north, 31st Street to the south and the Kansas City-Independence border to the east. It is predominantly Black.
“I truly believe they are parasites of the Black community,” Ellington testified of Freedom.
Judge Johnson limited testimony about Freedom and its political tension with Ellington following objections by Nigro, who said politics didn’t have much to do with whether an assault had occurred.
By the end, Johnson was not persuaded by Ellington’s case and found him guilty of assault when he poked Bland in the chest.
“I did nothing but hang out with my family that night and my whole evening was destroyed,” Bland said afterwards. “I haven’t been back to 18th & Vine since that event.”