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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trespass order and criminal charge dropped from men who were arrested at Bonner County meetings. Lawsuits are pending

Luke Omodt, chair of the Bonner County Commissioners, left, asks Dave Bowman, right, to leave before the start of the commissioners meeting Feb. 6 in Sandpoint. Bowman is appealing his trespass order.  (James Hanlon/The Spokesman-Review)

A yearlong trespass order has been dropped against a man who was arrested after refusing to leave a Bonner County Commissioners meeting in January, and criminal charges were dropped against another man who was similarly arrested twice.

After appealing his trespass order, Rick Cramer, of Sagle, Idaho, is allowed to return to public meetings in Bonner County. The county commissioners unanimously agreed to drop the trespass during an executive session earlier this month.

In his appeal, Cramer’s attorney Daniel Sheckler argued that he was deprived of his First Amendment rights without due process and that he was conflated with David Bowman, who made statements Chairman Luke Omodt considered threatening.

The divided board has been embroiled in conflict over how to handle public comment and maintain order amid outbursts at meetings for more than a year.

At a meeting on Jan. 23, Cramer interjected during a heated discussion among the commissioners.

When Omodt told him he was out of order, Cramer stood up to leave but returned to his seat when Commissioner Asia Williams said he could stay.

Omodt called the county’s sergeant-at-arms and recessed the meeting.

Bowman, who Omodt attempted to remove from another meeting that month, sent an email to county officials noting that Cramer was open-carrying a firearm at the meeting and that the altercation could have escalated into a gun fight.

Bowman denied this was a threat.

“Consider it an advisement,” he wrote.

Despite being named in Bowman’s email, Cramer never made any threats, Sheckler said in the appeal.

In a written statement attached to the appeal, Cramer said he would strive to wait to be recognized and not disrupt meetings. At the same time, he should be allowed equal access to public comment.

“Chairman Omodt you unfairly lumped me in with Mr. Bowman,” Cramer wrote. “That was retaliation and discrimination for my views, and not because I pose any safety risk.”

In a previous email, Bowman said he would defend himself if the sergeant-at-arms attempted to remove him again.

Omodt said he had a duty to protect the citizens and employees of the county.

Just before a Jan. 26 meeting, Omodt sent Bowman and Cramer email notice that they were trespassed from county meetings for one year.

Sheckler said Cramer did not see the email before the meeting and that he was sitting quietly when Omodt called the Sandpoint Police Department and performed a citizen’s arrest on both men.

Bowman, who was arrested again when he returned to the next meeting a week later, is also appealing his trespass order. The commissioners have not yet addressed his appeal and his trespass order still stands, Omodt said. He is allowed to attend meetings virtually.

Bowman, a commissioner of the Northside Fire District in Ponderay, ran unsuccessfully against Omodt for his county commissioner seat in 2022.

County Prosecutor Louis Marshall dropped a trespassing misdemeanor charge against Bowman last month.

Through internal emails and public statements, Marshall had been critical of Omodt’s handling of the initial arrests, saying he did not have probable cause affidavits, that Omodt trespassed them without a vote of the board and that he exposed the county to liability.

The board ratified the trespasses March 7 in a 2-1 vote.

In a memo last year, Marshall issued the board his opinion that while the board has authority to trespass citizens from public meetings, it should exercise caution not to interfere with the First Amendment. The board should balance the importance of public participation with business efficiency, he said.

Both Cramer and Bowman have filed tort claims with notice of intent to sue the county, Omodt and Commissioner Steven Bradshaw.

Cramer is claiming $750,000 in damages from defamation and reputational harm for being arrested.

Bowman is seeking $1.5 million in damages. His tort also names the City of Sandpoint for false arrest.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.