ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said he doesn’t believe allegations that one of his top aides "preys" on homeless black men.
Kriseman made the declaration in response to a woman and several members of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement who called on Kriseman and Kevin King to resign during last week’s City Council meeting.
Melissa Thorp and six Uhuru members, including former mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel, told City Council about Facebook messages in which King reportedly talked about "a slight obsession with homeless black men." Thorp said King sent the messages to her between 2012 and 2014. One photo shows what appears to be King and a man shirtless in bed.
King, the chief of policy and public engagement and one of the city’s highest-paid employees, said he "hung out" with Thorp 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.
"I have no reason to believe anything other than what I have been told by Mr. King and his attorney," Kriseman said Monday. "There is no one else who has come forward with information against Kevin."
Kriseman said Thorp and the Uhurus, who plan to protest Tuesday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, have no credibility because they have accused the mayor of killing people and crafting city policies to grow the homeless population.
"They have engaged in this behavior in the past," Kriseman said.
Last month, Thorp sent the Tampa Bay Times 13 screenshots of messages that she said she exchanged with King. 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, she said King shared details about an obsession with homeless black men.
King, who has worked closely with Kriseman since he served in the Florida House, said he took the shirtless photo of himself six years ago for a social media account, but it didn’t include another man.
On Friday, the Times located the man in the photo, who is a government employee and asked not to be identified. He declined to comment on the photo and hung up when a reporter asked if he knew King.
On Monday, the man called the Times to say he only met King twice during a work event. "I don’t know him," the man said. "I have taken no pictures with him. I live a normal life."
Also Monday, King stressed that the messages did not come from his Facebook account. He called them fake and said he is pursuing legal action. He declined further comment.
Contact Mark Puente at email@example.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.