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Keys county commissioner takes 30-day leave of absence following domestic abuse charge

·8 min read
Monroe County photo

A Florida Keys county commissioner who was arrested on a domestic abuse charge earlier this week informed Gov. Ron DeSantis Friday night that he was taking a 30-day leave of absence “to address some personal issues that warrant immediate attention.”

Eddie Martinez, who represents one of the two Monroe County districts in Key West, sent DeSantis the letter hours after the Miami Herald reported that the majority of his colleagues on the County Commission wanted him to resign.

Also, that same day, Martinez told a local newspaper, the Key West Citizen, that he did not batter his wife with an empty prescription pain pill bottle as he was accused by the Hialeah Police Department on Tuesday.

“All I’m going to say is it’s an accusation only,” Martinez told the Citizen.

On Friday, three of his four colleagues on the dais, all Republicans, told the Miami Herald/ they think he should step down.

“I personally think he needs to resign. He needs time to get his life in order. And the stress of public office doesn’t add to his ability to accomplish this right now,” said Mayor David Rice, whose district includes the Middle Keys city of Marathon.

The calls for Martinez’s ouster following his arrest are the latest in the opaque story of a little-known Republican candidate who barely campaigned yet managed to narrowly defeat the well-known Democratic incumbent representing Key West, Monroe County’s only solidly blue district.

Martinez’s opponent in the November race, Heather Carruthers, has a pending lawsuit against him, arguing he never lived in the district he now represents.

DeSantis knows about the arrest, his press secretary Christina Pushaw said Thursday.

“The governor’s office is aware of the arrest, and our legal team is reviewing the available information,” Pushaw said in an email. “Per Florida law and our constitution, the governor does have the authority to suspend elected officials who are charged with crimes. This is not automatic or immediate. The governor can use his discretion and make that decision after reviewing the facts of the case.”

In other cases of local officials charged with crimes, the governor has ordered suspension after reviewing the facts, Pushaw said.

She gave a recent example of a Destin city councilwoman suspended by a governor’s order on Nov. 4, after she was charged in October with felony battery on a law enforcement officer. Prebble Ramswell also was charged with official misconduct, another felony.

Kristen Livengood, Monroe County spokeswoman, said Friday night that Martinez would not receive his $50,348 county commissioner salary while he was on his leave of absence.

Martinez was arrested at a Hialeah home Tuesday and jailed on a $1,500 bond. He was released Wednesday evening after posting bond. While walking to a vehicle, Martinez told a reporter he did not hit his wife. Asked if he would step down, he said, “No.”

Residency questions

In a February deposition in Carruthers’ lawsuit, Martinez’s stepdaughter said he and his wife, her mother, lived in Key Largo — about 90 miles north of Key West — until after he won the election.

“It was clear to my fiancé and me that Eddie had no intention to move to Key West during the campaign because he did not think he was going to win,” Natalie Guerra said during the deposition. “There was no packing beforehand. They did not start looking for a place to live in Key West until after the election.”

In court filings, Martinez said that in February 2020 he moved out of a rental in Key Haven, about a mile from the island of Key West, into a space on Truman Avenue in Key West, where he stayed in the rear apartment in the back of what was his office at the time. He said his wife moved from that Key Haven home to Key Largo while their daughters went to stay with their grandmother in Hialeah, where Martinez is from.

The Truman Avenue building was listed on Martinez’s campaign finance forms as his address throughout the campaign. On Nov. 5, 2020 — two days after the election — he said he moved to a condo on Simonton Street in Key West.

At the Simonton Street building Friday, attorney Richard Klitenick, who owns the condos beneath where Martinez said he lived, said he saw Martinez moving into the upstairs condo soon after the 2020 election. But Klitenick said Martinez hasn’t been there in “months and months,” and that the condo has been rented several times since.

The owner of the condo is listed in the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s records as Gary the Carpenter Construction, which is owned by Gary Burchfield.

Burchfield couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Accusations of pill addiction

Hialeah police arrested Martinez after responding to a 911 call about a man with post-traumatic stress disorder “very violent inside the home,” according to the report.

His wife, Maria Martinez, said her husband threw an empty pill bottle into her face during a rage and that this was only his latest incident of domestic violence.

She said her husband has struggled with prescription pain medication abuse for some time and when he runs out of the pills he “turns extremely violent,” police said.

Martinez told the Key West Citizen newspaper that he did not tell police he has a problem with prescription pain medication, contradicting the arrest report that said he told officers he struggles with the pills. Martinez, 46, has not responded to text messages from the Miami Herald/FLKeysNews.

Martinez’s wife told police she “has dealt with the domestic violence for years but failed to report the incidents, hoping he would quit his prescription drug abuse,” according to the arrest report. He told the Citizen he does not need drug treatment, “as I only take what is prescribed by my medical doctor. That is it. No more no less.”

Martinez ran unsuccessfully to be the Key Largo representative of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District board in 2014 and for the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District board in 2016. He won his first election in November 2020 to represent part of Key West, defeating the incumbent Carruthers in a race so close it required a mandatory recount.

Carruthers questioned Martinez’s residency after the election and has filed a lawsuit calling for his removal and for her to be reinstalled as commissioner. On Friday, Carruthers said she has known since before the 2020 election Martinez “cannot adequately represent the people of District 3 as he is not an engaged resident or responsible member of the Keys community.”

“The current allegations of drug abuse and domestic violence have only reinforced my beliefs,” Carruthers said.

Two of the couple’s daughters said they saw Martinez throw the pill bottle that struck their mother’s face, Hialeah police reported. The 13-year-old said her father threw it “like a baseball,” and she went to hide inside a bathroom to call 911.

She also said Martinez struggles with prescription drug abuse and regularly becomes violent, having physically and emotionally abused her and her sisters in the past. After his arrest, Martinez denied he hit his wife “but refused to say his daughters were lying,” according to the report.

Colleagues losing trust

All but one of Martinez’s four colleagues on the Monroe Board of County Commissioners said Friday it’s time for him to resign.

“You need to be 100% aware of what you’re doing all of the time and in all places, and it is apparent he is not able to do this because of his health condition,” said Commissioner Michelle Coldiron, who represents the Lower Keys. She added that she is prepared to ask DeSantis to step in if Martinez doesn’t resign.

The newest member of the commission, Holly Raschein, who was appointed by DeSantis to represent the Upper Keys after Commissioner Mike Forster died of COVID-19, said Friday that Martinez should resign for the sake of his health and his family’s well-being.

“As a new colleague of Commissioner Martinez, I’m saddened and deeply troubled by these recent events. As a woman, mother and former legislator who sponsored and passed legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, I take these criminal charges very seriously,” Raschein, a former state representative, said in a text to the Miami Herald.

“I believe that those who do so forfeit their right to the public trust,” she said. “There is no place for this in Hialeah — or Monroe County. I sincerely hope Commissioner Martinez will take the appropriate action to prioritize his recovery and to protect his wife and others in his life. I will pray for them.”

Only Mayor Pro Tem Craig Cates, who represents the other county district in Key West, was not willing to call on Martinez to resign.

“I know it’s difficult. I know he wants to serve, but what’s best for him and his family, that’s a decision that’s up to him to make,” Cates said.

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