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Calling it a 'misunderstanding,' Brian Blair leaves jail as DCF investigates child abuse

Times Staff Writer

TAMPA — Brian Blair was released from jail today, calling the Father's Day incident that put him behind bars a "misunderstanding."

The former Hillsborough County commissioner was released on his own recognizance, meaning he did not have to post bail. He faces two felony child abuse charges for allegedly punching his sons. One son said Blair had been drinking, officials said.

At Blair's first appearance, his attorney, George Lorenzo, told a judge that Blair did not have a criminal record and did not pose a flight risk. Blair watched on a closed-circuit TV wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.

Outside the courtroom, Lorenzo declined to comment. Behind sunglasses and holding Lorenzo's hand, Blair's wife, Toni, remained silent.

"Toni is doing great," Lorenzo said, adding that the children were OK, too.

As he left jail a few hours later, Blair told reporters the incident was "a real, I guess, unfortunate situation. It's a misunderstanding that could have been prevented."

"I have over 7,000 hours mentoring children, and the last thing I'd ever do is hurt a kid," Blair said. "Sometimes the hardest kids to mentor are your own. I guess that's all I'll say for now."

When asked whether he has let down his constituents, Blair said, "if they were there I think they'd understand the situation."

The Department of Children and Families is investigating. Nick Cox, regional director for the department, said he couldn't comment. Cox said there were no prior incidents on file involving the Blair family.

Blair is accused of punching his two sons, 17-year-old Brett and 12-year-old Bradley, early Sunday morning. He was arrested about 5 a.m. at his family's home in Forest Hills.

Debbie Carter, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said there were two other boys, ages 18 and 14, at the Blair house during the incident. Their names will not be released because they are witnesses. Carter said they were not involved in the incident.

Brett Blair told deputies that he returned home from playing basketball when he got into an argument with his dad, who he said had been drinking.

According to an arrest report, it happened about 4 a.m. Blair, a 6-foot-tall, 235-pound former professional wrestler, shoved Brett in the chest, the report states. When Brett tried to walk away, Blair grabbed him, punched him in the face and put him in a choke hold. Deputies said he then let go of Brett, grabbed younger son Bradley by the throat and punched him.

Both sons identified their father as the person who attacked them, and Blair was taken to the Hillsborough County jail on two felony counts of child abuse. He was held without bail Sunday.

A neighbor said called the incident "shocking."

"He's a good neighbor, he really is," said Nancy Alston, who lives across the street from the family's 12702 N Boulevard home. "I was totally surprised."

Alston said she often sees Blair outside playing basketball with his sons. She's never seen them arguing, but "hey, sometimes you snap," Alston said.

Blair was elected to the countywide District 6 seat on the County Commission in 2004 and was defeated for re-election last November by financial planner Kevin Beckner.

Calling it a 'misunderstanding,' Brian Blair leaves jail as DCF investigates child abuse 06/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2009 8:49pm]
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