BY AMBER THIBODAUX
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Circuit Court Judge Candidate Nathan Skop has received restitution and an apology letter from Alan Geering, the man responsible for vandalizing two of Skop’s campaign signs prior to the Primary Election in August; however, the agreement, which required Geering to go three months without breaking any law, was actually terminated the same day it was signed by the Assistant State Attorney in the Third Judicial Circuit, where the case was assigned after Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brian Kramer said he had a conflict of interest in the case.
Geering was observed defacing Skop’s campaign signs on July 30 in the parking lot of Brown’s Country Buffet in Alachua, and the witness took note of Geering’s license plate and notified the Alachua Police Department. Geering, 51, is a local “Antifascist” activist who was also an accountant at Meridian Behavioral Services at the time the crime occurred.
A sworn complaint was filed on August 3 by Alachua Police Department, charging Geering with misdemeanor criminal mischief. Kramer advised the governor that since Skop was a candidate for Circuit Court Judge and one of Skop’s opponents, Sean Brewer, was an employee of the State Attorney’s office, the case should be assigned to another judicial circuit to avoid a conflict of interest or any appearance of impropriety, and Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order assigning the case to the Third Judicial Circuit.
Geering retained counsel and originally submitted a plea of not guilty but later entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), an agreement between the prosecutor and defendant whereby prosecution is conditionally suspended while the defendant fulfills the requirements of the agreement in a set period of time. The requirements for Geering included working regularly, notifying the Diversion Program Administrator of any residence changes, paying $150 in prosecution costs, paying $210 restitution and sending a letter of apology to Skop, performing 8 hours of public service work, and not violating any criminal law for three months.
However, the agreement was terminated “by reason of successful completion” on the same day it was signed by Assistant State Attorney Chase Larsen; all charges were then dropped. We reached out to Larsen for an explanation of the shortened DPA but didn’t receive a response.
It is typical for Deferred Prosecution Agreements and documentation of all of the requirements to be posted in the court docket in a criminal case, but we had to get the DPA from the Third Circuit via a public records request, and no documentation of the completion of the other requirements has been filed. Skop has received the apology letter and the $210 restitution check, but he told us he has not received confirmation that the public service hours were completed.
In a written statement to Alachua Chronicle, Skop said he believes the reduced deferred prosecution period was not sufficient, given the nature of the crime. “As the victim of what could arguably be considered a hate crime, less than one week of deferred prosecution (inexplicably shortened down from three months) fails to provide the appropriate punishment and serve as a deterrent to others vandalizing property,” Skop said.
The agreement required that the apology letter be a “minimum of 250 words expressing regret for vandalism and that what was done is not appropriate political discourse and does not further any meaningful dialogue.” Geering’s letter read, in part, “I regret my action on that day and will pay restitution for the damage done. There are legitimate avenues for members of the public to express their opinions of election candidates but drawing on the candidate’s picture to make him look like Adolf Hitler is not one of them.” Geering claimed that his graffiti was intended as political satire but that the attempt “obviously backfired.” He closed with, “I hope we can agree that the USA is a large and open enough society that all its citizens can coexist amicably without resort to demonization and retaliation. There are adequate avenues and protected rights in our system that we can agree to disagree. My vandalism did not advance our shared civic space and for that I apologize.”
Updated at 7:50 p.m. to clarify that the DPA did not go before a judge.