ST. PETERSBURG — At Thursday’s City Council meeting, seven residents called for the resignation of Mayor Rick Kriseman and Kevin King — one of his closest confidants — over allegations that King "preys" on homeless black men.
Jesse Nevel, the vice president of Communities United for Reparations and Economic Development, told City Council that he has photos of Facebook messages in which King talks about "a slight obsession with homeless black men." The messages, which were shared with the Tampa Bay Times, include a photo of King in bed with a black man.
King, the chief of policy and public engagement and one of the city’s highest-paid employees, has worked closely with Kriseman since he served in the Florida House.
King said he "hung out" with the woman who supplied the Facebook messages years ago but "unequivocally" denies exchanging the messages with her. He said he is a victim of a cybercrime because people have a vendetta against him.
"It’s frightening. It’s scary," said King, 39, who is married and has one child. "Some of this doesn’t make sense. Anybody can say anything they want at City Council."
Since becoming chief of staff, King has been, at times, a lightning rod in City Hall. He has clashed with council members who make negative comments about Kriseman’s decisions. He also has been dogged by 2001 allegations that he solicited a teenage girl for sex. Criminal charges were later expunged from court files and are not in public records.
Nevel said he wanted to share the Facebook images with City Council but was not allowed.
"Your attorney told me I couldn’t, not because the information is untrue," Nevel said, "but because King’s comments are so offensive they can’t be broadcast on the city’s television network."
Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman halted the meeting with several bangs of her gavel after Nevel spoke. Many City Council members quickly left the room. About a dozen individuals in the crowd held up signs calling for Kriseman’s resignation, while others questioned what happened and why council members left so abruptly.
Melissa Thorp, 41, was the first to speak after the council returned about five minutes later, opening up about the explicit messages she said she received in 2014.
Thorp said she thought at the time that King was a private citizen, not a city official.
"Mr. King’s predatory comments toward the extremely disenfranchised demographic prove he is unfit for office," Thorp said.
She then called for both Kriseman and King to resign. Council members did not address the speakers or discuss the comments.
Kriseman, who took office in January 2014, declined to comment through a spokesman.
Last month, Thorp sent the Tampa Bay Times 13 screenshots of messages that she said she exchanged with King between 2012 and 2014. The screenshots show the sender’s username as "Kevin King." She said she and King met around 2004 in an Internet chatroom and ended up dating a few times.
She said they kept in touch through the years. Around 2009, Thorp said she moved to California and later Colorado.
During that time, Thorp said she and King communicated through text, email and Facebook messages. She said King shared details about an obsession with homeless black men.
"I don’t know why he told me that stuff," Thorp told the Times. "He probably trusted me back then. All of this was when he was married. He has a child."
On Sept. 21, 2014, Thorp asked King to send her $20 or $50. The writer replied: "What do I get for this, by the way?"
Hours later, Thorp replied: "Well u molested me in my sleep that one time. I’ll forgive U."
"I wish I molested you," the sender replied the next day. "You’re a hottie."
Days later, Thorp, who was struggling financially, asked again for the money.
The writer replied: "I will send tomorrow. I have other homeless to feed."
On Oct. 9, 2014, at 9:03 p.m., the sender wrote: "I have a slight obsession with homeless black men. Weird? So many in St. Pete near me. I should start an organization called handjobs for homeless."
A photo sent on Oct. 18, 2014, at 12:37 a.m., shows what appears to be King and a man shirtless in bed.
"My boo," the message says.
Three days later, Thorp called the writer weird.
"I would take $5 depending on the dude ... I’m kidding, 10 bucks maybe," the writer replied.
King said he took the shirtless photo of himself six years ago for a social media account, but it didn’t include another man. He denied molesting Thorp, saying: "It’s not true."
King’s 2001 arrest has been expunged from court files and is not in public records. Based on the Times’ account of his arrest, King was 22 and working as a substitute teacher for the Pinellas County School District.
St. Petersburg police accused him of trying to get two female students, ages 14 and 15, to skip school and drink beer with him, and asking one to perform a sex act on him. Neither girl actually went with King.
He was charged with three felonies, including two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The school district fired him a day later. King has repeatedly emphasized he was not convicted of any crimes.
Contact Mark Puente at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.