Scientology opponent accused of hitting man
A critic of the church is arrested in the assault of a church member as a video camera films the incident.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 1999
CLEARWATER -- A New England millionaire leading a campaign against the Church of Scientology was arrested late Sunday and accused of striking a Scientologist who he said had followed him most of the day with a video camera.
The incident took place shortly after 10:30 p.m. in front of the Fort Harrison Hotel, the downtown headquarters of Scientology's "mecca" in Clearwater. A Clearwater police officer was stopped at a light in front of the hotel and witnessed the altercation.
Robert S. Minton, 53, was charged with misdemeanor battery and taken to Pinellas County Jail where he was released early Monday on $250 bail. A videotape provided to police by Scientology officials shows Minton and another Scientology critic, Stacy Brooks, in front of the Fort Harrison. Brooks is training a video camera on Scientology staffer Richard W. Howd, just a few feet away. Howd, in turn, is pointing a video camera at Minton and Brooks.
The tape shows Minton turning to walk away from the hotel and then turning back toward Howd. It shows Howd's head and shoulders snapping back before he spins to the pavement and lies there while fellow Scientologists come to his aid.
An ambulance took Howd to Morton Plant Hospital. Police said he had a small cut above his left eye and a slight abrasion below it.
Minton is visiting Clearwater to picket the church and find office space for a new organization that will seek to educate the public about what he calls the abuses of Scientology and to help people who want to leave the church.
Monday, that effort to find office space sparked a second incident in as many days between Minton and church members.
Shortly before noon, Minton met accountant Scott Brauer at Brauer's downtown office to discuss buying the property as headquarters for his new anti-Scientology group. The building at 33 N Fort Harrison Ave. is adjacent to the old Clearwater Bank building on Cleveland Street, one of Scientology's prime properties in Clearwater.
Brauer said a group of about five Scientologists walked into the building and interrupted his talk with Minton. "They were saying Mr. Minton is a terrible fellow and wanted to make sure I knew all about him," Brauer said.
He said the Scientologists took pictures of one of his clients, and he asked them to leave twice before calling police. When officers arrived, they found the church members picketing against Minton on the sidewalk and violating no laws, police said.
Marty Rathbun, a top Scientology official based in Los Angeles, called Minton "a menace."
"There's some real concern about this" among local Scientologists, he said. "It's crystal clear he (Minton) can't control himself. . . . He's so out of control that he's willing to do this on video in front of the police."
Rathbun, who was in Clearwater on Monday, said Howd, 33, is a "researcher" in Scientology's Office of Special Affairs, which deals with threats to the church.
Minton, meanwhile, issued an apology over the Internet on Monday to the Scientology critics who follow his activities and sometimes join him at pickets. But his statment also said: "I am not the first person to go to jail by being willing to stand up to a bigoted organization who stomps on the civil and human rights of its members and the public at large."
In an interview Monday, Minton said his arrest followed an eventful week.
He said all 4,000 people in the town of Sandown, N.H., where he lives, were mailed packets criticizing his use of profanity on the Internet. The same fliers were sent anonymously to some of his associates in Boston and to the school his two daughters attend.
He said two Scientologists greeted him and Brooks on Sunday afternoon at Tampa International Airport, saying: "Bob Minton, what are you doing in our town?"
Minton said he responded: "Maybe this used to be your town, but we're taking it back."
He said he and Brooks were followed all day Sunday by a group of Scientologists and private investigators. He said he stopped by the Fort Harrison Hotel for a brief afternoon picket, before driving south through the streets of Clearwater, trying to shake the people following him. Rathbun acknowledged that Scientologists followed Minton.
Minton checked in at the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa on Sunday afternoon, had dinner and later ended up at the Fort Harrison for the picket that resulted in his arrest.
Minton said he "got fed up" with Howd following him too closely and "I turned around and I pushed the sign at him."
Minton called Howd's fall "very theatrical."
Rathbun said Howd looked like a hockey player after a fight, with cuts and puffiness around his left eye.
Mike Rinder, another top Scientology official, said Howd was laid on a stretcher and placed in a neck brace.
Rinder complained that Minton was trying to justify his attack on Howd by making Scientologists out to be sinister.
"The level of hypocrisy here is rising by the day," he said.