Less than a week after getting sentenced in a criminal case, social media sensation Bryan “Gratata” Silva lost an eviction lawsuit waged against him this week.
The ruling comes days after Silva was sentenced to a year and a half behind bars after pleading guilty to charges of possession of ammunition and possession of drugs by a convicted felon.
Retired Judge William G. Barkley, presiding over a damages trial Monday in Charlottesville General District Court, found in favor of the landlord at the Downtown Mall building where Silva was renting an office. The judge said that Silva owes the full bill of about $27,000, the majority of which was legal fees.
“There was a reasonable basis to evict the defendant, and the defendant resisted,” concluded Barkley. “It was necessary.”
Monday’s trial focused on Suite G at 223 W. Main St., a small, second-floor office on the Downtown Mall. That’s where Silva conducted an online business trading insignia goods on Depop, a peer-to-peer e-commerce site.
“I sell hype items,” Silva testified.
Silva complained that since his Nov. 14 arrest and incarceration he was unfairly denied access to such items as an $800 T-shirt, a $1,700 pair of Ben & Jerry’s-branded Nike Dunks sneakers and a $6,000 chair. And his lawyer, Dale Jensen, accused the property manager, Bill Rice, of unfairly seizing the goods.
“He wanted to take that personal property and hold it hostage,” said Jensen.
While the lawyer conceded that Silva rightfully owed about $2,100 in rent and late fees for the $350-per-month office, he took issue with the amounts charged for packing and storing the goods, for post-tenancy repairs and for more than $18,000 in fees to two lawyers.
“What’s at issue is the amount owed by my client,” said Jensen. “There are some things that are beyond the pale.”
The landlord’s lawyer, Randall Purdue, disagreed.
“This case is really about consequences,” said Purdue. “Bryan objected to the eviction which is his right to do. But that process has cost money, time and expenses.”
Trial testimony indicated that there was a point at which another attorney, Doris Gelbman, acting in a court-ordered capacity, went to the local jail in December to get Silva to sign a form to let his older brother, Phillip, get the goods.
“He told me that he absolutely refused to let his brother collect his property,” Gelbman testified. “He declined to sign.”
“I thought I’d be able to get out and get them myself,” the younger Silva said when he took the stand.
Trial testimony indicated there was a showdown in the hallway outside Suite G in late April, the day before a court-ordered eviction took effect. Silva’s brother appeared with a rental truck and manpower to move the merchandise.
“The locks were changed,” Phillip Silva testified.
“I don’t issue keys to people who are in jail,” testified Rice, the property manager.
One of the trial’s key issues was whether Rice had the right to change the locks to both Suite G and on the front door four days after Bryan Silva’s Nov. 14 arrest on drug and ammunition charges.
“That was five months before you can do that,” said Bryan Silva’s attorney.
Bryan Silva was targeted by police for social media statements made on Nov. 13, a few hours prior to the killing of three University of Virginia student-athletes. While Bryan Silva has no connection to their deaths, he was the subject of a protective order stemming from an alleged threat to a fellow office tenant and has prior criminal convictions including stalking. Concerned viewers online noticed that he illegally handled bullets in a Facebook post. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week to 1 1/2 years in prison as a felon in possession of ammunition.
“The tenants in the building were very concerned for their safety,” said the landlord’s lawyer. “It was prudent for the landlord to change the locks. Typically, you don’t have a situation where one of your tenants is incarcerated.”
Legal analyst David Heilberg told The Daily Progress that the landlord’s move on lock-changing carried some risk.
“As a practical matter, they had to replace the locks,” said Heilberg. “But they took a practical gamble that the guy wasn’t coming back. If he got bailed out quickly and cured the default, they would have been obligated to give him the new key.”
According to a bill of particulars, however, Bryan Silva’s alleged default contained multiple infractions that went uncorrected for 30 days after the default notice. The landlord, the Joe H. Gieck Trust, claimed that Bryan Silva dirtied the bathrooms, misused the parking lot, refused to obtain insurance and impaired the quiet enjoyment of fellow tenants by smoking marijuana, playing loud music and making threats.
“I sent two letters to him,” Purdue argued. “Bryan Silva did not change his behavior. Mr. Bryan Silva challenged this process every single step of the way.”
In his ruling, the judge approved the invoices, including a bill amounting to $14,315 to cover Purdue’s 58 hours working the case against Bryan Silva.
“Is $14,000 too much to spend on most landlord cases? Yes it is,” said Judge Barkley. “If he hadn’t resisted it, there wouldn’t be $14,000 in attorney’s fees.”
In contrast to his week-earlier criminal sentencing, where he appeared at ease, the 32-year-old Silva seemed distressed throughout Monday’s 3.5-hour trial. His nearly shoulder-length hair was pulled back in a bun, high above his striped jail-issue jump suit.
During a break in the proceedings, Silva announced that he’d be freed in “two or three months.”
After court, his brother expressed disappointment with the judgment and vowed an appeal. And he said that his brother is much more than that youthful expression of faux gangsterism suggested by his Gratata nickname.
“He’s hurting,” Phillip Silva told The Daily Progress. “He lost his infant son.”
Phillip Silva said that local people don’t realize that his brother’s angry online tirades against UVa were a reasonable reaction to the November stillbirth of his son shortly after a visit to UVa Medical Center. The ashes of the son were stored in Suite G and have not been returned, his brother alleges.
“Nobody knows Bryan; nobody knows what he’s actually gone through,” said his brother. “The only people Bryan has to express to are online.”