Canceled debate ignites dispute over Georgia HD-35 candidate’s 2013 criminal charges

sign with American flag stating "Vote Here"Sign at South Cobb Recreation Center voting location. Photo:Cobb County Courier/Larry Felton Johnson

By Rebecca Gaunt

Robert Trim, the Republican candidate for Georgia House District 35, withdrew from a scheduled debate with Democrat Lisa Campbell, igniting a fiery exchange between the candidates over Trim’s legal issues stemming from a 2013 incident.

The debate was supposed to take place on the Kennesaw State University campus on Oct. 27. According to a press release from Campbell, it was coordinated by the Young Democrats and Young Republicans of KSU, and the KSU School of Government and International Affairs.

In a news release Friday, Campbell said, “Unfortunately, I was not shocked to hear that my opponent had decided not to give the voters of District 35 a chance to see, clearly, the contrast between ourselves and our two campaigns in a live debate. Mr. Trim is surely aware that during a live debate he would be questioned as to how he, a man convicted by a jury of two counts of lying to law enforcement officers in order to accuse a rival of attempted murder, (J.Sarrio, Cherokee School Board Member Sentenced to Jail for Lying to Police, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1/2014). believes he is fit to represent the people of House District 35.”

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Trim spoke to the Courier Friday. He said he withdrew from the debate because he disagreed with the choice of campus venue.

“The room was never decided on…at least not with any input from my campaign or any of the college Republicans to the best of my knowledge, “ he said.

Trim said he requested the debate be moved from a small room in a building in the campus interior to the continuing education center, which is larger and more accessible with convenient parking.

“The idea that I’m scared to debate or talk about these issues, just isn’t true,” Trim said. “We were actually disappointed that Ms.Campbell’s campaign refused to actually move it to where the community could go.”

Asked whether she was aware of the requested venue change, Campbell said she was and called it a “baseless excuse for refusing to participate in this bi-partisan, student-led debate.”

“Given Robert Trim’s indefensible record of criminal conviction in Georgia for filing false police reports and lying to investigators to further a political campaign, we are not surprised that he is refusing to show up and be held accountable,” Campbell’s campaign wrote.

Trim addressed the June 13, 2013 incident to the Courier by phone. It took place after a volatile school board meeting in which former school board member Kelly Marlow and then-Cherokee County Superintendent Frank Petruzielo were at odds.

“It was a very contentious school board meeting, it was messy, lots of yelling at people,” Trim said.

Former Cherokee County GOP secretary Barbara Knowles filed a police report accusing Petruzielo of speeding toward them as she, Trim, and Marlow crossed the street outside of a crosswalk toward a restaurant on E. Main Street.

“I’ve never accused anyone of trying to kill me. I’ve never accused anyone of any such thing. In fact, I didn’t file a police report. The police called me because my name was put in a police report by a third party who we told not to file a police report.,” he said. “I’ve been very clear from the beginning from when the police asked me. No, I don’t believe my life was in danger. Yes, I believe a car came close. I think someone wanted to get my attention. That’s all I ever thought.”

Trim provided a copy of the police report to the Courier. The officer who took the report wrote that he met with Knowles and Marlow that night.

The description of the incident, which the officer attributed to Knowles says, “…Petruzielo came speeding down the street in an aggressive manner coming very close to her and failing to yield…Knowles stated that the vehicle he was driving was a white BMW S.U.V. but could not supply the tag number. Knowles stated that she thought the act was intentional and she felt threatened by it. Knowles requested a report be made.”

Knowles was listed as the complainant. Trim and Marlow, who have since married, were listed as additional parties.

The interaction was caught on security camera, and the Canton Police Department’s investigation determined they had made false statements to the police. All three were charged and convicted with felonies. In 2016, Trim and Marlow successfully appealed and the charges were reduced to misdemeanors.

“I don’t think anybody that you’ve read was either in the courtroom or bothered to read my statement to the police or ever listened to the audio statement,” he said in reference to news articles that ran at the time events occurred.

Trim provided both the written statement and the audio recording to the Courier.

His email statement to Det. Drew Henson of the Canton Police Department states:

As we reached the center line of the road a car made a right turn on to Main street from the light at Elizabeth street (?) at the top of the hill. We proceeded across Main street and as we crossed the center line the car began to accelerate and then switched from the right lane to the left lane where we were approximately half way across. As a parent I automatically watch these types things and when I saw the car approaching I took note of where we were as it accelerated and changed lanes. I saw the car coming and Ms Knowlesmoved out of the way quickly and I pushed Ms Marlow out of the lane to avoid being hit by the car. The car past and I could feel the closeness of the car, similar to when I ride my road bicycle. It was incredibly close and I barely got out of the way.

The car it self was a white BMW SUV very similar to the one driven by the superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo. The meeting we had just left also included the superintendent who was clearly angry and frustrated and directed much of that publicly at Ms Marlow. After passing us the car made the next immediate left onto Dupree Street and went out of sight.

Besides myself and the two ladies I was accompanying, there were approximately 4 – 6 people on the sidewalk outside the Painted Pig who commented on the behavior of the car and how close it was to us as we crossed the street. I was present when the officer was taking statements that evening and told him that I was also present but he did not take my name or statement at that time.

The audio of a phone call between Henson and Trim describes the incident and white SUV similarly.

“It all happened. It’s not been a secret. Everybody knows it. I’ve not hidden from it…I’ve been very transparent and talked to anyone who wants to ask me questions,” Trim said. “I don’t want to get into a lengthy relitigation of what happened 10 years ago. It’s not effective for helping Georgia in the future.”

Trim continued, “Unfortunately, my opponent has only put out negative information and hasn’t campaigned on anything that she’s doing, at least in the neighborhoods or in the mail that’s been sent out. And she doesn’t care about facts.”

Campbell said she will still attend on Oct. 27 to share her platform and views. Trim is working on planning a town hall of his own.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.

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