Gravely at Roanoke City Council 12.03.18

Robert Gravely addresses Roanoke City Council on Dec. 3, 2018.

Robert Gravely, the man who last year for a second time threatened to have members of the Roanoke City Council shot, was barred for life Wednesday from council meetings and city hall.

The restriction was part of Gravely’s sentence from Roanoke General District Judge Tom Roe for a conviction of misdemeanor disorderly conduct that resulted from Gravely’s threats and disruption of a Dec. 3 council meeting. Gravely already was temporarily barred from council meetings.

Despite Gravely’s testimony that public officials who don’t listen to him deserve to die, Roe declined a request from Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Stephens to put the 72-year-old in jail for a year. Instead, Roe imposed a 12-month sentence but suspended all of it.

Gravely, who formerly was a building and grounds worker for the city for more than 30 years, has been a fixture during the council’s public comment period for years. He has said he served in combat with the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War, and was convicted of a felony for shooting a man decades ago, after his military service. He said last year he does not own a gun because of that felony conviction.

In 2006, an agitated Gravely told council members during a meeting that he could have them shot.

He was charged with disorderly conduct then, though the charge was dismissed, and he was banned from council meetings for a time. He was fired from his city job.

In December, as he has frequently done, Gravely railed about the injustice of his firing and then, in explaining what he said 12 years ago, repeated his exact threat.

“I can and will have you shot,” he said, and then added, “Believe it or not I can.”

That prompted Mayor Sherman Lea to interrupt Gravely to warn him, but a defiant Gravely refused to stop talking or leave the lectern when Lea ordered him to take his seat. He told Lea “shut up” and “you don’t rule me.”

Video of the entire five-minute standoff, which ended when Lea recessed the meeting and police escorted Gravely out, was played in court Wednesday.

As it played, Gravely, in a light blue suit and with his trademark props at hand — an American flag, a wall clock and a Bible — nodded and smiled.

Lea told Gravely’s court-appointed attorney, Anna Bagwell, “He refused to stop talking and I felt I no longer had control of the meeting.”

“He knows what the rules are,” Lea added.

Gravely took the stand and gave a meandering defense, steered by questions from Bagwell, during which he quoted Scripture, invoked the authority of God and accused the city council of not caring about poor or black people.

He said he was tired of council members not doing their job for all of Roanoke’s citizens and not listening to him.

“My goal is to teach them about the city,” he said.

Gravely said he had the authority of two presidential orders, which say “any man who conspires against America should be shot.”

That includes the city council when it works against the needs of its citizens, he said, but he really had no intention of harming anyone.

On cross-examination, Stephens pressed Gravely on whether he meant what he said.

“I’m a child of God … I can’t take my words back,” Gravely testified.

But he added, “I did that to get them to pay attention to the needs of the people. I’m not gong to hurt them … They do not listen.”

“What’s the penalty for not listening?” Stephens asked.

Gravely’s terse response: “Death.”

Stephens seized on that response in asking Roe to send Gravely to jail. He called the statement “scary.”

“We live in a world where people do walk into public buildings … and start shooting,” Stephens said.

“Your comments … did very well scare everybody,” Roe told Gravely, and put him on notice that similar speech could well land him in jail after all.

Lea said after the trial that he was “taken aback” by Gravely’s assertion that those who don’t listen to him should die.

But ultimately he thought the sentence was just, even without jail time. He was satisfied with Gravely being barred from city hall.

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Matt Chittum covers Roanoke City. A Roanoke native, he’s been at the Roanoke Times for more than two decades, having overcome an inauspicious start with a part-time clerical job.

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