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In the final hours, John Bryan appeared in control


In the final hours, John Bryan appeared in control

As the week crashed down on John Bryan, officials who knew of the abuse inquiry were on the lookout for trouble signals.


Published September 9, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - In the final hours of his public life, as the walls closed in around him, John Bryan appeared in control.

For 30 minutes on Friday, John Wolfe, the city's top attorney, looked for any crack.

Bryan talked about how sorry he was, mainly for hurting his family and his friends, and for the media circus that was to come. Much of the meeting, though, was marked by silence, Wolfe said.

But in what may have been his last conversation, Bryan also focused on the future, where he would stay and how he would get by in the days and weeks ahead.

Wolfe kept looking for signs that Bryan was unstable.

He found none.

As news of Bryan's suicide on Friday sunk in on Saturday, a clearer picture of the events of the past week began to emerge. But even those final moments don't reconcile with the public face of John Bryan that most people remembered -- the family man, the civic leader and the committed St. Petersburg City Council chairman.

"There was no indication at all what was going to happen," Wolfe said Saturday, retracing his last moments with Bryan, 56. "There just wasn't anything."

A little more than two weeks ago, Bryan had lunch with George Rahdert, a friend and political supporter. Rahdert, a developer and attorney who also represents the St. Petersburg Times, said Bryan talked about his separation from his wife, Alicia, a financial planner in Tampa.

He seemed optimistic that they would get back together, Rahdert said. Bryan told him his wife blamed their marital turmoil "on the time he was spending on his political commitments."

Bryan said he had decided not to run for mayor, so he could repair his marriage.

"I was surprised that he seemed willing to set aside those political ambitions," Rahdert said. "It seemed admirable."

St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon said the department formally began investigating Bryan on Wednesday. Detectives with the crimes against children unit conducted interviews related to allegations that Bryan had sexually abused his adopted daughters. Harmon said detectives spoke to Bryan at least once. Police declined to identify other people interviewed, but they found reason to proceed.

"They told me based upon what they learned that there were some criminal allegations here," Harmon said.

The chief called Mayor Rick Baker late Wednesday afternoon to alert him to the investigation. "It was about a matter important to the city," Harmon said.

He told Baker that the investigation focused on Bryan's personal life, not his role as City Council chairman. The chief said he did not provide the mayor with many details because the investigation was still ongoing.

A day later, Thursday, Bryan made an appointment to speak with Wolfe.

He picked the time, 1 p.m. Friday. He didn't say what was on his mind.

Around 10:15 a.m. Friday, Bryan attended a shelter hearing in front of Circuit Judge Raymond Gross at the criminal court complex in Largo. Such hearings determine who has custody of children while authorities investigate abuse allegations.

Bryan and his wife were present. The children were not, said attorney Christie Pardo, who was in the courtroom.

Authorities were investigating allegations that Bryan had sexually abused two of his adopted daughters, ages 12 and 15, officials have said. The Times is withholding their names because of the nature of the allegations.

In addition, police were investigating whether Bryan had sexually abused his former nanny, whom he also had adopted. She is now 38 and lives out of state.

A Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court spokesman said Bryan admitted to a sexual relationship with the nanny, but said it was consensual and occurred after she turned 18. Bryan also had two children from a previous marriage.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Gross ordered Bryan to have no contact with the two girls, who were allowed to remain at home with their mother.

The hearing lasted 15 minutes.

News of the hearing began spreading beyond the courthouse, and concern in City Hall mounted.

First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston and Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis considered whether Bryan could be helped by an employee assistance program.

When he heard about the allegations, Davis said he began calling Bryan because "from all my law enforcement experience, I know that you have to reach out and grab that person because when the pressure starts to mount, you don't want someone to do what John did."

Harmon also had started calling the City Council members to inform them.

Council member Bill Foster asked if police could protect Bryan. Could someone stay with him? Could he be arrested?

"I specifically said you can't let him out of your sight," Foster recalled Saturday.

"The three legs of the stool John Bryan stood on were city, family and his civic involvement," Foster said. "Yesterday all three of the legs of that stool were knocked over. You had to know the meaning of these things to him, to know we were in trouble."

Harmon said he was mindful of such concerns.

He knew Bryan was set to meet with Wolfe at 1 p.m. so he asked the city attorney to let him know if he noticed anything unusual or disturbing about Bryan's behavior, and to offer any appropriate help through the city's employee assistance program.

The letter Bryan handed to Wolfe, dated Aug. 20, originally indicated he would resign Sept. 1. Wolfe did not ask for details, but he had Bryan write in a new date and sign the letter.

Wolfe walked Bryan to the elevator after the meeting. He told Bryan to call him if he needed anything or someone to talk to.

Thanks, Bryan said, and left.

Around 2 p.m., Harmon and Wolfe spoke. Harmon asked if Wolfe saw any sign Bryan was going to harm himself or others.

"I asked him, 'Is he homicidal or suicidal?'" the chief said. "Mr. Wolfe told me: 'No.'"

If Bryan had shown such signs, police could have taken some action. But "there was no information brought to us that would allow us to take him into custody under the Baker Act or anything like that," Harmon said.

City officials announced Bryan's resignation in a tense, swift news conference at 3:45 p.m.

Davis and City Council member Rene Flowers kept calling Bryan's new cell phone, hoping he would answer.

Bryan was found dead in the garage of his Floral City home at 5:45 p.m. by a St. Petersburg Times reporter seeking an interview. Bryan killed himself by inhaling carbon monoxide.

About four hours later, Richard Giglio, a local attorney for Bryan's oldest adopted daughter, issued a statement:

"(The daughter) and her family are deeply distraught by the recent events involving her adoptive father and St. Petersburg City Council Chairman, John Bryan," Giglio said.

In an interview Saturday, Giglio, a partner with the law firm Maney & Gordon, said he is representing only the oldest daughter.

"She is in the process of dealing with everything that's going on," Giglio said.

He declined to say anything more.

Police spokesman Bill Proffitt said officials would decide this week what to do next with the investigation. "We will have to meet on Monday to decide how to close the investigation and to decide when all the documents become public record," he said.

Gail Tierney, spokeswoman for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, said authorities were still waiting for autopsy results before releasing Bryan's suicide note.

It was found on the kitchen counter, written on a single page still attached to a yellow legal pad, Tierney said.

Bryan began writing in pencil, then switched to a pen.

"It just seemed to be kind of a goodbye kind of note from what I heard," Tierney said. "It was more wishing his family well and that he had confidence in them that they would do well."

"It was a farewell kind of note more than anything else."

Times editors Stephen Buckley and Neil Brown, staff writers Chris Tisch, Nicole Hutcheson, Cristina Silva and Barbara Behrendt and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

How it happened


St. Petersburg police begin investigating allegations that City Council Chairman John Bryan sexually abused his adopted daughters.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon calls Mayor Rick Baker and alerts him to the investigation.


Bryan sets up an appointment to speak on Friday with the city's top attorney, John Wolfe. He doesn't say why.


10:15 a.m.: Bryan attends a court hearing on who will have custody of his children while authorities investigate abuse allegations. The judge orders him to have no contact with his two young adopted daughters.

Midmorning: As news spreads, Harmon tells Wolfe to alert him if Bryan shows any disturbing behavior.

1 p.m.: Bryan and Wolfe meet. Bryan resigns.

2 p.m.: Wolfe tells Harmon there is no indication Bryan is a danger to himself or others.

3:45 p.m.: City officials announce Bryan's resignation.

5:45 p.m.: A St. Petersburg Times reporter finds Bryan dead in the garage of his Floral City home. He had inhaled carbon monoxide.

2007 Sep 9