"Punishment Has Been Achieved"by William Norman Grigg
“Punishment for this offense has been achieved.”
With those words, which are found near the end of an August 8 motion to dismiss a spurious battery charge against Sandpoint, Idaho resident Rita Hutchens, the author – Bonner County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Shane Greenbank – incriminates himself.
For about a year, Greenbank tirelessly pursued a charge he knew to be entirely devoid of merit. His petulant motion to dismiss – a document littered with grammatical errors that occurred because the author’s protruding lower lip obstructed his view of the computer screen – offers unambiguous proof that his objective was not to convict Hutchens of an actual crime. Instead, he sought to inflict punishment on her for seeking redress for criminal violence she suffered at the hands of a Sandpoint, Idaho police officer.
Rita Hutchens is a tiny 57-year-old internationally respected quilt artist who has never committed a violent act against anybody. She was accused of “criminal battery” because she allegedly threw a ballpoint pen at a desk in the Sandpoint City Hall while doing research for a potential lawsuit against the city.
That writing utensil supposedly ricocheted off the desktop and glanced harmlessly off the blouse of a deputy city clerk named Melissa Ward. The supposed victim suffered no injury and did not press charges. Yet his incident, insisted Greenbank in a complaint filed last October 5, was a violent assault and a “grave offense against the peace and dignity of the state of Idaho.”
Greenbank, whose flair for rhetorical exaggeration would strike a hormonal adolescent girl as excessive, accused Hutchens of “willfully and unlawfully us[ing] force or violence upon the person of Melissa Ward.” Bear in mind that this was not a case in which a pen was employed as a shank, as occurred in a previous episode here in Idaho, nor was the pen hurled like a javelin. It was tossed carelessly at a desk, which means that there was no criminal intent – an indispensable element of an actual crime.
The same cannot be said of the assault she endured at the hands of a Sandpoint police officer named Theresa Heberer, who attacked Hutchens in front of her home in November 2011. After jumping Hutchens from behind and handcuffing the victim, Heberer held a lengthy conference with her supervisor in an effort to contrive a charge that would justify an arrest. They eventually settled on “obstruction,” a charge that was thrown out of court by Judge Barbara Buchanan several months later.
“There was no reason to touch her,” Judge Buchanan observed. “She did not have to answer [Officer Heberer’s] questions. She has a Fifth Amendment right not to do that…. You can’t be charged with resisting and obstructing for exercising your Fifth Amendment right, and she did have every right to say, `I don’t want to answer your questions, I want to go in my house.’ There is no basis for an arrest, there is no reason for a search warrant.”
After seeking medical treatment for the injuries she had suffered, Hutchens filed a damage claim with the City of Sandpoint. When that request was denied, she filed a notice of tort claim against the city. She was doing research into that claim on August 8 2012, when the pen-throwing incident took place.
The existing audio record of the August 8, 2012 confrontation at Sandpoint City Hall was made by one of several city officials who had surrounded Hutchens while she was trying to examine records of her unlawful arrest. Her chief antagonist was city attorney Scott Campbell, whose office had turned down her damage claim several weeks earlier. The specific official who rejected that claim was Lori Meulenberg, who had prosecuted the obstruction charge against Hutchens.
Hutchens wanted to be left alone to examine the records without Campbell and others swarming her and looking over her shoulder. It should be recalled that she was the victim of a violent crime committed by one of their associates. She finally gave voice to her exasperation.
“I’m tired of you people! Just leave me alone!” she exclaimed. “I just want to look at the record, which I have a right to do, now, in private.”
“Actually, you don’t have a right to do [that] in private,” Campbell said in a taunting voice that oozed condescension.
As Hutchens attempted to read the records, Campbell continued to violate her personal space in a fashion that he would have considered legally actionable if he had been on the receiving end. This could be considered a deliberate provocation, and if so it had the intended effect.
“Do not look over me!” she shouted at Campbell, who continued to behave like an adolescent bully.
“Is this a public place, Rita?” Campbell said, mockingly. “I have as much right to be here in a public place as you have.”
At this point, Hutchens took the initiative to de-escalate the situation by saying that she would leave and “come back tomorrow with a witness.”
What this means is that Hutchens was not looking for a fight; she was looking to avoid one. She was never the aggressor in any sense. Outnumbered, harassed, and mocked by city officials who had no respect for her rights, she withdrew from the office, allegedly throwing down a ballpoint pen as she left.
A few seconds after Hutchens departed, the silence was broken by Melissa Ward, the supposed victim.
“She just threw a pen at me,” Ward snickered. Yes, the “victim” laughed at the incident.
“Should we prosecute her?” an audibly amused Campbell asked Ward.
Significantly, there is no indication that Ward – the identified “victim” – agreed that Hutchens should be prosecuted. Ward's giggling comment is the only indication that a pen was thrown by anyone. Hutchens adamantly insists that she didn't hurl the object, but simply left the building in disgust.
After Hutchens was charged with battery last November, she filed a subpoena demanding that Ward, the purported victim, provide a signed criminal complaint. Campbell, who instigated the persecution campaign against Hutchens, filed a motion to quash that subpoena.
That motion was granted by the Idaho First District Court, which ruled that “requiring Ms. Ward, the victim in this matter, to provide a signed complaint is unreasonable.”
In what sense would it be “unreasonable” to require the alleged victim of criminal battery to sign a complaint? Ward didn’t require medical treatment, and she’s not functionally illiterate, so she is physically and intellectually capable of either writing or dictating a coherent narrative. The only way that the term “unreasonable” has relevance here is as a description of the charge itself – and Campbell’s desire to prevent any critical scrutiny of the incident responsible for that charge.
The confected charge was a misdemeanor offense. Yet after Hutchens declined to appear at a pre-trial hearing late last year, an acting judge named Don Swanstrom (who is no longer in service, and might not have been authorized to act as a judge at the time) issued a day-or-night bench warrant for her arrest.
According a 2011 state Supreme Court ruling (Idaho v. Skurlock), a warrant of that kind is generally inappropriate because at night time people enjoy “a heightened expectation of privacy that should not be disturbed by a knock on the door and the presentation of a search warrant.”
Nonetheless, three officers kicked in the front door to Hutchens’ home on April 16 and dragged her away. In the course of this Gestapo-grade act of overkill, one of the officers discovered what was identified as “drug paraphernalia” under her sofa – which resulted in yet another charge being filed against her.
The judge who was originally tapped to hear the “paraphernalia” case was Lori Meulenberg – yes, the same Lori Meulenberg who prosecuted the obstruction charge and subsequently denied Hutchens’ damage claim for the injury she suffered during her unlawful arrest in November 2011.
Finally, on July 23 – more than three months after this case was reported in detail in this space – the Bonner County Daily Bee published a story offering a critical examination of the campaign to incarcerate Rita Hutchens.
“Despite being a low-level offense, the battery case against Rita Nancy Hutchens has some of the trappings of a high-stakes affair,” observed the Bee. The article noted that the midnight arrest was questionable (at best), and that the treatment of Hutchens “stirred dismay by those in the community who contend law enforcement and the courts are running amok in Bonner County.”
It was likewise notable that the case was “being closely followed by city officials. City Attorney Scot Campbell attended [the July 19] hearing, as did police Chief Corey Coon and Det. Derrick Hagstrom.”
Why was the crÃ¨me de la scum of Sandpoint’s ruling clique so interested in this trivial case, and so perversely determined to see Rita Hutchens incarcerated? Why did Shane Greenbank insist on having her submit to a mental evaluation – a demand that resulted in her being arrested for contempt on two occasions?
Shortly after Hutchens was seized in her home in a midnight police raid, Greenbank filed a motion demanding that she be forced to undergo a psychological evaluation because of what he described as “unusual behaviors and affects – both in court and in her filings.” He also made the remarkable claim – without providing a molecule of supporting evidence -- that he had also been “battered” by Hutchens “outside of court when he served papers to her in the clerk’s office….”
The absence of any further description may lead the otherwise uninformed reader to assume that Rita Hutchens, who is 5’1” tall and weighs about 110 pounds, knocked Greenbank on his tax-fattened ass, which is something he richly deserves. What happened, in fact, is that Greenbank shoved a sheaf of legal documents into her face – and Hutchens shoved them right back. This, we are supposed to pretend, was an act of criminal “battery.”
It should be acknowledged, I suppose,that this act would be sufficient to hurt Mr. Greenbank’s feelings. He is an individual of remarkably delicate sensibilities: About five years ago, while defiling Kootenai County as an assistant prosecutor, Greenbank was slapped down by a judge who declared a mistrial in a domestic violence case because Greenbank, in an attempt to manipulate the jury, started crying during his opening statement.
After initially trying to deny what he had done, Greenbank was forced to admit: “I did have tears running down my face, I did have snot running down my face.” First District Judge Fred Gilber pointed out to the snot-faced prosecutor that this was not the first time the Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office had been censured “for appealing to the passions or prejudice of the jury.”
Greenbank’s repeated demands that Hutchens undergo a psychiatric evaluation were similarly intended to prejudice the public against her. This is a violation of the ethical standards that govern prosecutors (yes, I was also surprised to learn that such guidelines exist, although they do nothing to inhibit the corrupt ambition of those who occupy the office).
Rule 3.8(f) of the ABA’s ethical standards specifies that prosecutors must refrain from making “comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused”; Rule 3.6(a) forbids prosecutors to make comments that they know or reasonably should know “will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.”
Greenbank’s untutored speculation about Hutchens’ mental health was widely reported, echoed by camp-followers of the ruling municipal clique, and had a hugely damaging impact on her public reputation.
“They set out to destroy my reputation – really, to destroy me,” Hutchens told Pro Libertate. “The claims they made about my mental health were in the paper all the time, and it’s absolutely destroyed my business. If this had actually gone to trial, there’s no way I could have been treated fairly by a jury after they had done so much to prejudice the community against me.”
After being incarcerated for contempt of court in mid-July, Hutchens finally underwent the psychological evaluation, which resulted in a terse and unembellished statement that she was entirely sound of mind. This didn’t deter the irrepressibly snotty Mr. Greenbank from using his motion to dismiss the charge to traduce his victim one last time.
“[W]hile it is unfortunate that the psychological evaluation did not result in some treatment recommendation that may benefit the defendant – and, by extension, the public – the State has done all it is able to do in order to minimize further risk to the public,” sneered Greenbank. He neither explained why his judgment of Hutchens’ psychological condition was superior to that of a credentialed mental health professor, nor did he provide any evidence that she ever posed a risk to the public.
The down-market Javert took some measure of comfort in the gratuitous suffering he had inflicted by incarcerating, impoverishing, and defaming an innocent and helpless woman whose “defiance” (his word) simply had to be punished.
Since Hutchens “has spent many more days in jail than she would have if she had actually been convicted of this offense,” Greenbank gloated, “punishment for this offense has been achieved.”
It is widely known, though rarely acknowledged, that prosecutors pursue punishment at the expense of both truth and justice. Bonner County is host to a specimen of that tribe in whom resides the distilled malice one so often finds in that occupation, untempered by the rudimentary intellectual discipline necessary to maintain the pretense of a commitment to principle. Greenbank’s persecution of Rita Hutchens was nothing less than criminal, and if so much as a particle of justice still exists he will face the consequences of his actions.
William Norman Grigg publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
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