“Punishment Has Been Achieved:” The Rita Hutchens Case

Will Grigg
Pro Libertate
August 13, 2013


Rita Hutchens“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.

Read the full article—”Punishment Has Been Achieved”