(EnviroNews Idaho) — It’s been six months since Idaho activist Alma Hasse was arrested during a public Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting and her legal troubles stemming from the incident are now over.
On April 2, 2015 the charges brought by Payette County against Hasse were dropped. “Thank goodness for sharp attorneys,” Hasse told EnviroNews during a phone interview.
A special prosecutor from the Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office was appointed to the case but that department did not return calls for comment.
Hasse’s arrest and charges arose when she called for or a “point of order” after commissioners closed a hearing regarding an application for a gas processing plant filed by Alta Mesa Idaho (AMI).
When the meeting was technically closed Commissioner Pete Morgan questioned Hasse’s credibility. She then called for a point of order to explain information she had brought before the commission, but instead was asked to leave. County sheriffs were called to the scene when Hasse refused to leave the meeting and she was arrested.
Although Hasse stands by her assertion she did nothing worthy of being taken out of the building in handcuffs, she was required to send the Planning and Zoning Commission a letter of apology for her outburst to have the charges dropped.
Hasse was represented in part by Michael Bartlett, with the Boise-based firm of Nevin, Benjamin, McKay and Bartlett who had taken the case pro-bono. He said the letter of apology was an appropriate outcome for the case, but contends Hasse didn’t break the law or any procedural meeting rules.
“From my point of view more than one person can do something wrong,” Bartlett said. “In this case, Alma did probably speak out of turn. It was the consequences that flowed from that [that] were, in my opinion, an indication of a shocking amount of corporate influence over local government.”
A number of the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission (as well as county commissioners) have active oil and gas leases, yet are involved in creating policy for the nascent industry at the same time. Bartlett also believes Alta Mesa Idaho exerted undo influence over Hasse being arrested and how she was treated in county lock-up.
AMI has drilled several gas wells in the county and is moving ahead with construction on a multi-million dollar rail-side gas transport and processing facility for the speculative, gas-condensate rich deposits, purportedly sitting underneath the county.
Bartlett wouldn’t divulge further details about how Alta Mesa may have been involved in Hasse’s legal troubles pointing to her upcoming civil suit against the county.
After she was initially arrested, Payette County refused to process her through the booking process because Hasse, in her recalcitrance, refused to speak and give them her name — even though the first Miranda Right is that an arrestee has the “right to remain silent.” Hasse said jail officials kept her in solitary confinement for five days and wouldn’t allow her phone calls, even for legal representation, and barred visitors.
“They wouldn’t even let them bring me fresh undergarments,” Hasse said.
While Hasse is no longer facing charges over the arrest, legal wrangling will continue as her plans proceed on bringing a civil case against the county.
“The actions of the county were so egregious. It’s something I can’t let go,” Hasse said.
Hasse has retained Nicholas Warden, associate attorney at Boise’s Fisher Rainey Hudson law firm, to handle the case. Warden said they plan on filing a notice of tort claim, “shortly.”
Warden wouldn’t comment on the specific merits of the case but said they would be in regard to the constitutional violations Hasse endured during her arrest and subsequent incarceration.
Hasse was in jail for seven days before being released. After being taken into custody, Hasse, exercising her right to remain silent, refused to answer questions — even about her identity. Payette County indicated they would not process Hasse until she cooperated with the booking process but she dug in her heels and refused to speak, even going so far as to engage in a hunger strike. Ultimately, Payette County released Hasse on her own recognizance on October 16. She faced charged of criminal trespass, as well as resisting arrest and obstructing.
According to Hasse, the county offered her three plea deals in the run up to trial.
“I didn’t have anything to plea to,” Hasse said.
Instead of intimidating Hasse into silence she said the incident has only made her stronger and that she intends on keeping an eye on local governance as well as the state’s burgeoning oil and gas industry.