BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – The City of Columbus has filed a counterclaim against Ward 4 Councilman Marty Turner in the ongoing struggle over a city cell phone.
In late October Turner filed suit against the city and Mayor Robert Smith in his individual capacity after Smith took his city cell phone away. Turner, who is represented by Pontotoc attorney Walter Zinn, is arguing that Smith exceeded his authority by ordering the phone disconnected, and that the loss of the phone interfered in Turner’s ability to serve his constituents. Smith had ordered Turner’s phone turned off after he made a series of vulgar, abusive posts, including an apparent death threat, on Facebook.
It later came out that Turner had also been using his city phone to provide free wifi for teenagers in his neighborhood. Turner admitted as much during a November city council meeting. According to city documents, Turner’s data usage was about 70 percent of the total use from all city councilmen’s phones, and it cost the city nearly $3,000.
Tuesday the city, who is represented by attorney Corky Smith, responded, asking that Turner’s suit be dismissed. Corky Smith also filed a countersuit against Turner, seeking repayment of about $2,800 in cell phone date fees.
The counterclaim alleges that Turner’s phone was to be used “specifically for municipal purposes” and that “the phone, plan and its use were public property.” Therefore Turner’s use of the phone for a hotspot constituted an illegal donation.
From the counterclaim: “During the term of the phone’s use, (Turner) began to use the phone for non-municipal purposes. (Turner) admittedly used the phone as ‘a hotspot for teenagers’ and to send ‘Facebook messages.’ It should be noted (Turner) only has a personal Facebook page. (Turner) categorizes this use as ‘grossly misused the data on the city’s cell phone.’” [Mr. Turner said at least twice during a November council meeting that he “grossly misused” the data plan. – Ed.]
Corky Smith writes that the scope of the misuse only became apparent after the phone was shut down. The counterclaim asks for both compensation from Turner and for “exemplary damages against (Turner) to discourage such acts in the future.”
The cell phone saga began on Saturday, June 11, when Turner went on a profanity-laced tirade on Facebook in which he claimed people were trying to kill him, and in which he threatened to kill an unspecified person. He attacked “so called black leaders” and called Rep. Kabir Karriem a “b***h,” as well as stating “I think you are scared because I will kill you first. Never threat my life I have family to live for. I promise I will kill you.”
Turner would later say that he was receiving death threats.
Monday, June 13, Mayor Robert Smith deactivated Turner’s city cell phone. In a press release sent out the next day, Robert Smith said: “I am deeply concerned over the social media posts from Councilman Turner. Death threats are serious matters, whether they are being made to or from Councilman Turner.”
Robert Smith said at the time that he would not allow Turner to use his city-provided cell phone to make inflammatory remarks: “Councilman Turner used the city-owned phone for the data to publish these posts,” he said. “Because of that, I am obligated as mayor to not allow the city to fund such activity. That is why I had the service turned off Monday morning.”
The mayor said at the time that he would turn Turner’s phone back on if he would allow the Columbus Crime Lab to test it to see if was used in making the posts; if it was “clear” it would be reactivated that same day.