A candidate for the Plantation City Commission was admitted to the hospital Thursday with blurry vision and dizziness from head injuries he sustained during an altercation with his opponent’s husband outside a local polling station late in the afternoon on Election Day.
Jesse Walaschek, 40, a candidate for Plantation Commission seat two, was taken to Plantation General Hospital on Tuesday, after what police called a “scuffle” with Robert Horland, 65, the husband of Walaschek’s opponent, Denise Horland.
“The guy went crazy on me,” Walaschek said. He said Horland attacked him from behind unprovoked, putting him in a sleeper hold and striking his neck. Witnesses described Horland’s actions to the Herald as more of a “bad tackle” or “pushing” possibly provoked when Walaschek took a stack of papers belonging to Horland from the ground. One witness, quoted in a police incident report, said Walaschek pushed Horland up against his truck after taking the papers from his hands.
Robert Horland was uninjured, according to the police report. He did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment. Newly elected commissioner Denise Horland also declined comment.
Walaschek sustained a minor head injury and injuries to his cervical spinal muscles, according to discharge records from Nov. 6. He returned to the hospital on Thursday and said he was admitted for monitoring after briefly losing consciousness. He said he is being treated for a concussion.
Both men want to pursue charges over the altercation, according to the police report. However, “due to conflicting statements from the parties involved and conflicting statements from unbiased witnesses on scene, no arrests were made at this time,” according to a report released by the Plantation Police Department late Friday.
The police report includes testimony from only one eyewitness. Horland’s testimony was not included in the report.
The Miami Herald independently interviewed three other witnesses who said Walaschek was campaigning outside Jim Ward Community Center polling station in Plantation about two hours before polls closed Tuesday when he was approached by Robert Horland, who had been watching him from a distance for some time.
Horland, who was dressed in the green T-shirt of his wife’s campaign, confronted Walaschek about his criminal history, witnesses said, speaking loudly enough for voters entering the building to hear.
“Bob starts saying bad things about Jesse and Jesse was a little upset too,” Daisy Izaguirre told the Miami Herald. Izaguirre, who was at the Jim Ward Center campaigning for a candidate in a different race that day, said she knows both Walaschek and Horland to be “nice guys.” She didn’t know what prompted the outburst.
Horland waved a stack of papers that he said contained proof of Walaschek’s criminal history — a 17-year-old DUI and a 12-year-old assault and burglary charge from Pennsylvania. (“Nobody is perfect,” Walaschek told the Herald, but did not deny the charges.) In a few cases, witnesses told the Herald Horland tried to show the papers to voters entering the building.
As for Horland’s motivation, Walaschek said Horland “probably thought it was going to be a really close race. Denise and I are the only ones that worked really hard. ” Denise Horland ended up winning the race decisively, earning over 45 percent of the total votes. Walaschek came in fourth of five candidates with just over 10 percent of the votes.
Nick Sortal, a newly elected Plantation commissioner for seat five (and former Miami Herald contributor), said Robert Horland’s motivation was simpler and slightly less politically calculated: “Jesse really got under Bob’s skin.”
“Jesse was always pushing the line throughout the whole campaign and that annoyed other people,” Sortal said.
For example, Sortal said Walaschek made his campaign material blue despite being a registered Republican in the majority-Democrat county. (“I just like blue,” Walachek told the Herald. “I can make my signs purple if I want. I doesn’t matter it’s a non party affiliated race.”)
Witnesses said that the heated words exchanged between the candidate and Horland at the polling station on election night got physical when Walaschek took some of Horland’s papers containing information about his criminal record and tried to put them in his truck.
“It was a 10-second thing between two guys. They overreacted,” Sortal said. “I don’t know why they called the police.”
Angela Archie told police she saw Walaschek snatch the papers out of Horland’s hands. Walaschek said officers told him Horland also accused him of ripping the papers out of the older man’s hands. Walaschek maintains he picked the papers up off the ground where Horland had dropped them.
“From what I could see, Jesse picked up the papers and started walking toward his truck and that’s when the guy went after him,” another witness, Denis Conklin, told the Herald. Conklin said he was standing by his car only about four or five feet from the dropped papers. He said he did not know Walaschek or Horland beyond seeing them during early voting.
“Jesse grabbed the papers from the ground really fast and he put it in his truck,” Izaguirre told the Herald. Horland became upset, she said. “He started saying ‘those are my records’ ” Izaguirre said.
Walaschek says as he bent to pick up the papers, Horland attacked him from behind, put him in a headlock, and struck him repeatedly in the head and neck with his elbow. “I shake him off of me,” said Walaschek. “My head’s down. I’m seeing stars.”
Sortal said from his perspective, Horland’s actions could be seen as “stand your ground” actions taken after his belongings were taken.
“Bob tried to tackle him,” said Sortal, who was also at the Jim Ward Center for last-minute campaigning and saw the altercation between the two men. ”It was not a good tackle. I don’t think Bob got him to the ground. Bob got his arm around him but Jesse got away.”
Witnesses said Walaschek put some of the papers in his truck and went back for the rest that were still on the ground.
“Jesse started to run back for more papers and Bob boxed him out like in basketball,” said Sortal. Then, the whole thing just calmed down, he said.
Izaguirre says she placed herself between both men, telling them repeatedly “It’s not worth it.”
Walaschek called the police. He was taken by ambulance to the Plantation hospital.
Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.