County Commission hopeful Josh Griffin is running as a young candidate who wants to make the county more friendly for businesses. But he recently found himself explaining a dust-up at a convenience store two years ago that landed him behind bars.
Griffin was arrested in June 2010 on a battery charge after a fight with a worker at a Daytona Beach gas station. He says the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that he was defending himself. The incident came nine months after his arrest in Tampa on a DUI charge, which was later reduced to reckless driving.
"I would hate for a few unfortunate seconds in my life to depict my life's future," he said. "I work hard and I'm a good man. I've had a few unfortunate events. I can't speak for everyone else, but I'm sure a lot of other people have had unfortunate events, too."
Griffin, 28, is the son of a politically active family in Land O'Lakes, and he also works in the family business, Bio Mass Tech, Inc. The company performs projects around the state such as shoreline reconstruction, water clarification and rehabbing stormwater systems. He also does cleanup work after natural disasters for a separate company.
He graduated in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Tampa. Griffin recently moved to a Gulf Harbors condo and is running in District 3 to replace longtime Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who is retiring.
In an interview last week with the Times, Griffin explained the circumstances of each arrest. But he said he hopes voters would also consider his business career when weighing his candidacy.
Asked if maturity is a concern, Griffin said: "No. I've done things as far as maturity you would never believe. Being 17, 18 years old, I'm running 40-, 50-man crews in hurricanes."
The Daytona Beach incident happened in June 2010, while Griffin was vacationing for a friend's birthday. He went into a Sunoco gas station before 3 a.m. on a Sunday. A Daytona Beach police report says he and a friend "were acting loud and belligerent."
According to the report, a store employee told the two to leave. They got into an argument. The employee said Griffin said, "You don't tell me what to do," and then struck the worker in the face. The report says police officers watched surveillance video of the incident and confirmed the employee's account. The video was not available to the Times.
Griffin said "that's not what happened on any level." He said he went into the store to buy a bottle of Gatorade and a box of cookies. He reached for cash in his wallet, and a $20 bill fell under the counter. He leaned down to reach for the bill, and the cashier asked what he was doing. The two got into an argument, with the cashier accusing Griffin of trying to rip him off.
The two continued arguing, but Griffin said he walked to the door and was about to leave the store. Then, "someone I had never seen before" blind-sided him with a punch to the face, Griffin said. He dropped to his knees, and the man hit Griffin's face again. That's when Griffin fought back.
"I was getting attacked," he said. "I guess that fight or flight (instinct), I reacted in self defense. I never struck anybody first. I was struck twice before I made one self-defense move."
Griffin said an officer told him the man might have been a transient, but the police report listed him as a store employee. Photos of the man's injuries show a deep gash on his right elbow and smaller cuts on his left arm and face. Griffin said neither man was badly injured, but said his own teeth were bleeding.
Griffin was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge, but the case was later dropped. A spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office in Volusia County said the office had trouble locating the victim to proceed with the case.
Griffin was also arrested in September 2009, in the early morning hours of his birthday. Griffin said he was driving home after meeting a friend in Tampa.
According to a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office report, Griffin was pulled over for speeding on U.S. 301, and a deputy also saw him swerving in and out of his lane. Griffin had "watery, bloodshot eyes" and alcohol on his breath, the report said.
Griffin said he was cooperative with the deputy, but refused a breath test.
"I really don't think the Breathalyzer test is an accurate thing," he said. "When I talked to the officer, I said, 'I don't want to do the Breathalyzer.' He said, 'Well, if you don't do the Breathalyzer, you have to be taken in.' So he detained me. I went in, and it was turned into a reckless driving charge. I did not get a DUI."
Griffin said he doesn't believe he was impaired, though he told the deputy that he had a few beers that night.
He was also charged in 2006 for having an unauthorized license. Griffin said the misunderstanding arose when his driver's license number was placed on an ID badge he used while performing cleanup work after Hurricane Katrina. The charge was dropped.
"I've had a few unfortunate mishaps in my life," he said. "But as far as my character goes, I'm a good man. I'm a hard worker. I'm an honest worker. I've never taken anything that's not mine."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.