A senior aide to the mayor has been found liable in civil court for threatening a Harrisburg resident after a mayoral debate in May, according to court documents and individuals involved in the case.
Karl Singleton, senior advisor to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, appeared before Magisterial District Justice David O’Leary on Dec. 19 for a hearing on a civil suit filed by Timothy Rowbottom in July 2017. Rowbottom alleged that Singleton threatened his life during a heated argument on May 9, a week before the primary election, following a debate between primary candidates at the Hilton Harrisburg.
Due to statements Rowbottom made during the argument and in court, however, O’Leary only fined Singelton nominal damages.
Rowbottom, who campaigned for mayoral primary candidate Jennie Jenkins in the spring, said on Tuesday that members of Papenfuse’s administration have impeded his business projects in the city. He owns and hopes to develop a parcel of land on S. 18th Street in Allison Hill.
The judicial ruling, which was issued by O’Leary on Dec. 27, affirmed that Rowbottom was “unhappy” with his treatment by the city administration, particularly Singleton, who publicly mocked him by blowing him kisses and calling him “cutie.”
The ruling goes on to detail the argument that took place at the Hilton on the night of May 9.
“I’m from Hall Manor, you should be scared of me,” Singleton allegedly said, referring to Harrisburg’s largest public housing complex.
When Rowbottom told Singleton he was not afraid, the mayor’s advisor allegedly responded with a threat.
“I know where you live, I can have you taken out,” Singleton allegedly said.
According to the ruling, Rowbottom, who is white, admitted that he has called Singleton a “sorry excuse for a black man” and said that he (Rowbottom) is “blacker than [Singleton] ever will be.”
O’Leary said that Singleton clearly threatened Rowbottom in a malicious way, and that his political role compounded his liability.
“If there is anything a politician, or an aide to a politician, should not do, it’s making thinly veiled threats of violence to a political opponent on the eve of an election,” O’Leary wrote. “This is the United States, not the People’s Republic of Harrisburg.”
Rowbottom’s initial suit asked for $12,000 in damages, the maximum that is allowed in MDJ court. O’Leary said that he only found Singleton liable for $100 in damages, plus $190 in court costs, since Rowbottom said in court that he was unafraid of Singleton’s remarks and unapologetic for his racially inflammatory comments.
Papenfuse said he could not comment on Tuesday about whether the court ruling would affect Singleton’s employment with the city.
“This is the first I’ve heard about the ruling,” Papenfuse said. “I’ll have to look into it.”
Singleton’s position in city hall was incidentally reduced to part-time this month. During budget hearings in December, Papenfuse said that the recent appointment of a full-time business administrator, Marc Woolley, reduced the need for a full-time advisor. Singleton currently works for the city three days a week.
Singleton did not deny any of the events described in the judge’s ruling, but did suggest that O’Leary’s decision was unjust.
“It’s white supremacy at its finest,” Singleton said.
Rowbottom appeared at City Council on Tuesday evening to present materials related to his alleged mistreatment by city administrators. He alleges that the city wrongfully denied his business permit applications and is responsible for code violations.
Papenfuse said after the council meeting that the allegations have no merit, adding that Rowbottom failed to meet the city’s criteria for obtaining a business permit.
Update, Monday, Jan. 15: Since this report was published, Karl Singleton left his post in the mayor’s office. Learn more here.