(EnviroNews Idaho) — Payette, Idaho — Idaho fracking activist Alma Hasse is seeking $1.5 million in damages from Payette County after being arrested at a public hearing and held in the county jail for eight days in October of 2104.
On April 6, 2015, Hasse, represented by Nicholas Warden, associate attorney with the Boise-based Fisher Rainey Hudson law firm, filed a Notice Of Tort Claim with Idaho Secretary of State Lawrence Denny and Payette County. Her claims include several losses of freedoms and liberties guaranteed by the Constitutions of Idaho and the Constitution of the United States, as well as mental anguish and distress, personal humiliation, impairment of reputation, loss of companionship and pain and suffering.
Warden told EnviroNews on April 6 during a phone interview they are “… concerned about the constitutionality of the circumstances surrounding (Hasse’s) arrest and subsequent incarceration.”
Hasse was arrested during a public Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting and was charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest and obstructing.
On April 2, 2015 the charges were dropped but Hasse was required to send P&Z a letter of apology for her outburst. Even though her criminal charges were dropped, Hasse said she wants to pursue the civil case on principal.
“The fact is this happened and it shouldn’t have happened,” Hasse said during a phone interview on April 6, 2015.
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).
As soon as the meeting was technically closed for public comment, Commissioner Pete Morgan took to questioning Hasse’s credibility. The “point of order” Hasse called for was to explain information she had brought before the commission, but instead of addressing the point of order, she was asked to leave by Chairman Chad Henggeler and Payette City Prosecutor and Commission General Council Bert Osborn. County sheriffs were called to the scene when Hasse refused to leave the meeting and she was arrested.
The Notice of Tort Claim, written by Warden, states that some of Hasse’s testimony at the hearing consisted of pointing out “the failure of members of the Commission to reveal the existence of outstanding lease agreements with Alta Mesa, and the personal financial gain they stood to incur from the exploitation of natural gas within the County, as well as the anticipated burden to local taxpayers created by the absence of an agreement requiring the company to compensate the County for any damage to roadways caused by commercial use.”
“The Commissioners expressed no concerns regarding the substance of Alma’s testimony during the public comment portion of the hearing,” Warden writes. “Instead, during a later portion of the hearing when members of the public are not allowed to speak a member of the Commission lashed out at Alma and accused her of ‘telling whoppers’ and promulgating ‘lies.'”
It was after this attack that Hasse called for a “point of order,” and Henggeler, commission chairman, called the Payette County Sheriff to have her removed from the meeting.
According to Warden, Payette City Police Officer Gary Toth arrived on scene and was told by the Commission General Counsel Osborn to arrest Hasse is she failed to vacate.
“Even though Alma had the right to be at the public hearing, Officer Toth arrested her for ‘trespass’ in a public building. She was not read her Miranda rights. She spent the subsequent eight days in jail,” wrote Warden.
Warden alleges Hasse was wrongfully arrested and wrongfully charged, as the evidence seemingly does not back up the charge of “resisting” or “obstructing” arrest. Video of the arrest clearly shows Hasse complying with the officer during her arrest.
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, but Warden indicates she was wrongfully jailed in the first place.
As a result of Hasse’s silent protest and exercising her First Amendment rights “she was confined in isolation for a period of five days (total incarceration was eight days). She was given no access to a shower, no contact with her husband, no access to clean clothes, and was forced to use the toiled while a male prison guard watched her,” Warden wrote.
Based on the above actions, the claim indicates Payette County violated (in several ways) Hasse’s First, Fifth and Eight Amendment rights as well as her right to due process.
Those named in the claim include the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission, P&Z Commissioners Morgan and Henggeler as well as employees, including Osborn and P&Z Administrator Mark Harvey. Payette County Commissioners Larry Church, Marc Shigeta and Rudy Edrikat (now out of office) are also listed in the claim, as is the Payette City Police Department, Payette County Sheriff’s office, the Payette County Prosecutor’s Office and the Payette County Jail.
Payette County and the Idaho Secretary of State confirmed receipt of the Notice of Tort Claim but would not comment further.