(EnviroNews Idaho) — Payette, Idaho — Alta Mesa Idaho vice president and general counsel John Peiserich will not face battery charges stemming from a November 17 scuffle with EnviroNews editor-in-chief Emerson Urry.
Urry has recused himself from his editing duties on this article.
Prosecutor Bert Osborn released his decision to decline the case on November 25.
In a Complaint Request Evaluation, Osborn indicated he sees several violations that occurred but it was Peiserich who was battered, not Urry.
The incident occurred in the hallway of the Payette County Courthouse in Payette, Idaho, following a county commissioners’ meeting.
After Urry began videotaping a conversation between Peiserich and Joe Morton, of Emmett, the industry attorney and former Halliburton lobbyist shoved Urry’s camera and allegedly grabbed the reporter.
Urry asked Peiserich not to touch his equipment, but the oil and gas representative was undeterred.
“I’ll do whatever I want,” Peiserich said, followed with “fuck you.”
A group of people in the hallway came to Urry’s defense, and Bob Knott, of New Plymouth, stepped in between Peiserich and Urry. As Peiserich stepped around Knott to exit the building, Urry followed beside him, camera still rolling, and the attorney again grabbed the camera.
Osborn, who didn’t return several requests for comment, states in his report that Knott battered Peiserich when he came to Urry’s defense.
The prosecutor indicates Urry and those in the hallway interfered with Peiserich’s ability to exit the courthouse and excuses the attorney’s pushing of the camera, “so that he can exit.”
“If Emerson puts himself into a position where he is interfering with people’s legal attempts to exit a public place, he has to expect some bumping,” Osborn writes in his report.
Eyewitness statements provided for the investigation describe Peiserich on the attack.
[City] resident Joe Weatherby’s statement declares that after Peiserich said, “I’ll do whatever I want,” the gas company executive “starts pushing again” after Urry got his video camera back up. Weatherby states that Peiserich was the one to push Knott.
“He clearly pushed Bob (Knott) and was intent on pushing anyone else he could,” Weatherby writes.
Knott’s narrative to police corroborates Weatherby’s account.
“I stepped between the two and told him to stop and he tried to push me out of the way and I told him to take his hands off me,” said Knott’s statement.
The investigator’s report also casts doubt on Peiserich’s simply bumping into people because he couldn’t make his way down the hallway as he tried to exit the building.
According to Payette Police Investigator Randy Yates’ report based on interviewing Peiserich, he said he grabbed Urry’s camera because “he didn’t want to be filmed because he was having a private conservation with Joe Morton,” and not because the attorney was trying to leave and was obstructed from doing so.
As the conversation was taking place on public property Urry had every right to shoot video in the county courthouse hallway and Peiserich had no expectation of privacy.
Urry had this to say in response to Osborn’s report: “Apparently Mr. Osborn has taken to fabricating events on behalf of Mr. Peiserich. I in no way, at any time, impeded Mr. Peiserich’s ability to exit the building. It was Peiserich who rushed me and created the encounter and at least seven people who were there reported it thusly. No eyewitness account (including that of Mr. Peiserich) states that I was ‘interfering with people’s legal attempts to exit a public place,’ as Mr. Osborn has farcically claimed in his report. The fact that Mr. Osborn would take to making things up to exonerate Peiserich is despicable, and shows a complete lack of duty and prosecutorial ethics.”
Osborn, a private attorney who provides prosecuting services to Payette, also provides legal services to area planning and zoning boards. In that position, he has helped to create ordinances so gas extraction can be developed in the area.
That working relationship between Osborn and Peiserich is what led Parma resident Alma Hasse to request the case against Peiserich be handled by a special prosecutor.
Osborn decided to prosecute New Plymouth gas and oil activist Alma Hasse, after she called for a “Point of Order” at a public meeting several weeks ago.
In an email to Payette County Prosecutor Anne Marie Kelso, Hasse asks, “How does a prosecutor pursue prosecution of an ordinary citizen — for standing up and speaking out at a public meeting — yet refuse to prosecute an assault witnessed by seven different individuals … and caught on camera to boot?”
In a phone interview December 1, Kelso said she never received Hasse’s email.
According to Kelso, even though Osborn and Peiserich have worked together on county and city issues that that relationship isn’t intimate enough to warrant Osborn to remove himself from overseeing the case.
Although Osborn was the original prosecutor on Hasse’s case it was moved to Kelso, who oversees county cases and has jurisdiction for prosecution against Hasse. Kelso then requested a special prosecutor to oversee the case against Hasse.
Kelso said its up to the prosecutor if a conflict exists and a different attorney be brought in. She requested a special prosecutor in Hasse’s case because she handles both civil and criminal cases for Payette County. Since the activist was arrested during a county government meeting Kelso felt it best to hand the case off.
In the case against Peiserich, Osborn would need to step away from the case if he felt the two had a “special relationship,” like if they were family or “close personal friends,” Kelso said.
“Just knowing them is not sufficient,” Kelso said.
Peiserich’s investigation and decision about prosecution was handled within the city of Payette.
On November 19, investigator Yates contacted Peiserich by phone. Yates’ report indicates Peiserich admitted to grabbing at Urry’s camera and that he could have physically touched Emerson because “people were pushing on him, but did not recall doing so in the manner Emerson had described.”
Peiserich “felt bad about how the incident was handled on his part and he shouldn’t have touched Emerson’s equipment.”
CCTV footage of the incident taken from the courthouse’s security cameras has not yet been released by the county, although it is processing a Freedom of Information Act Request for them.
Hasse told EnviroNews she reviewed the footage, but the angle it was taken at makes it difficult to ascertain the details of the scuffle.
“All you can really see is Peiserich’s back,” Hasse said.
Yates’ report mentions the county’s footage and that investigators did not see Peiserich physically touch Urry in it, but it remains unknown if that is because of the vantage point of the camera or if they are assuming physical contact wasn’t made because one witness said they didn’t see it happen.
Several eyewitness statements prepared for the investigation indicate Peiserich did physically touch Urry.
Urry said he was disappointed with the city’s decision not to prosecute Peiserich but isn’t surprised with the outcome.
“It sends a very concerning message,” Urry said. “For an oil company executive to put their hands on a reporter, or anyone for that matter, anytime they want, that’s a problem.”
Urry said Osborn should never have been given the task of deciding on whether Peiserich should be prosecuted.
“We’re exploring the relationship between Osborn and Peiserich,” he said. “They’ve participated in meetings for several years and they know each other.”
He said that for Hasse to be facing a jury trial in January for speaking at a public meeting but for Peiserich to walk away without facing potential consequences shows a “double standard.”
Peiserich, a partner in the Little Rock, Arkansas, law firm of Perkins, Peiserich, Greathouse, Morgan, Rankin, was also a part-time professor for the Boise-based, private Christian law school, Concordia University.
The university’s website still has Peiserich listed as a part-time instructor but Concordia spokeswoman Madeline Turnock said in an email he is no longer employed with the school.
The university’s website indicates Peiserich, along with his law firm colleagues G. Alan Perkins and Jim Rankin, taught Oil and Gas Law in the spring of 2014.
A course description states, “This course addresses both general and Arkansas law applicable to ownership and conservation of oil and gas.”
Although Concordia was provided with Urry’s video footage taken that day, Turnock said the school, “was not aware of this specific situation,” and that they “don’t comment on individual personnel.”
Turnock refused to acknowledge if the school reviewed the video provided or if Peiserich’s behavior was acceptable.
Peiserich may have been correct when he said, “I’ll do whatever I want.”