Former Navarre Press Reporter Yvonne C. Harper pictured August 22 in court.
First Judicial Circuit Judge David Rimmer on Wednesday dismissed a petition filed by Former Navarre Press Reporter Yvonne C. Harper, who was seeking a protective order against a Navarre man who has made comments about her in a local social media group.
Judge Rimmer, after questioning whether or not Respondent Bo Bowden had actually made any direct threats, dismissed the petition in which she sought a restraining order for stalking.
“As you’ve indicated, he has not made any direct threats against you,” Judge Rimmer concluded.
According to Bowden, Harper first complained to his employer after he shared a meme, mocking her and two others as a “Threat to Navarre’s Truth & Democracy” in the Concerned Citizens of Navarre – Exiled Facebook group, a closed group with roughly 5,000 members.
“That page is foul,” Harper stated during the August 22 court appearance.
The meme also included photos of Harper’s former employer, Sandi Kemp, publisher of Navarre Press, and Tamara Fountain, CEO of the Navarre Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The trio’s photos appeared underneath pictures of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, who were labeled as “Threats to America’s Truth & Democracy.” Additionally the meme included a hashtag which used profanity.
Bowden admitted that members of the Facebook group sometimes use “inappropriate” language but stated that is “freedom of expression” and protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
He told South Santa Rosa News his employer took no disciplinary action following Harper’s August 9 complaint over the meme.
Additionally, in her petition, Harper stated she had also filed a report with Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office. She stated Sgt. Miller told her, “You can file a report, but I’ll write ‘Just a meme.’”
Bowden expressed surprise that Harper had further escalated the issue by petitioning the court for a restraining order for stalking, considering he had not contacted her.
During the August 22 hearing Harper initially denied knowing Bowden. “I do not know him,” she said.
However, Bowden pointed out they had met at least twice — first when she was as a reporter for Navarre Press and later during her unsuccessful 2014 bid for Santa Rosa County District 4 Commissioner.
“We set up a small community group to challenge Navarre Press’ negative reporting on the county to promote the positive stuff for the county,” Bowden told Judge Rimmer, noting 2014 was the last time he had any direct contact with her and that he has not contacted her via phone, email or other methods.
“It has been stated and alleged that Navarre Press is biased,” Harper told Judge Rimmer, but she denied any bias in stories featuring her byline.
“I have challenged her credibility,” Bowden said, pointing out Harper has also appeared at public meetings to openly criticize Santa Rosa County Commissioners.
Harper told Judge Rimmer she didn’t recall meeting Bowden but would “not negate it,” considering she had met thousands of people during her failed bid to be the District 4 Commissioner.
“I know there is a (First Amendment), but that’s not absolute,” she argued.
But Judge Rimmer concluded that although Bowden had stated she was a “threat,” he had not been threatening toward her.
Earlier in the week Harper, Kemp and Fountain attended the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commission meeting.
Harper, during that August 20 meeting, publicly accused District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson of “liking” a post in the Concerned Citizens of Navarre – Exiled Facebook group in which Bowden had made a derogatory comment about her, Kemp and others.
“I never liked the comment Harper referenced,” Williamson told South Santa Rosa News.
The Board of County Commissioners did not take any action on Harper’s complaint against Williamson.