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Two men trespassed from Bonner County Commissioners meeting after disruptions and indirect threats

From left, Bonner County Commissioners Steven Bradshaw, Asia Williams and Luke Omodt hold a meeting on July 25 in Sandpoint.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Two Bonner County men were arrested after refusing to leave a county commissioner meeting Friday. The incident has caused a rift within county government and law enforcement over how to handle disruptive behavior at public meetings.

Sandpoint police officers assisted Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners Luke Omodt in performing a citizen’s arrest of Dave Bowman and Rick Cramer, who were trespassed after they reportedly had disrupted several recent meetings and Bowman sent threatening emails to county officials.

Immediately after calling Friday’s budget meeting to order, Omodt formally asked Bowman and Cramer to leave the meeting and notified them that they are trespassed from the building for one year.

The men refused to leave. Omodt then called the meeting into recess to wait for the police.

After they were removed, the men were released and were not booked in jail or charged with a crime.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Omodt raised concerns that the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office was unresponsive to requests for assistance in enforcing the trespass and that he instead had to rely on the Sandpoint Police Department.

Sheriff Daryl Wheeler has been at political odds with Omodt and commissioner Steve Bradshaw, who constitute a majority on the three-member commission.

When Bowman ran against Omodt for his commission seat in 2022, Wheeler endorsed Bowman and donated $840 to his campaign. Bowman lost.

In November, Bowman was elected to the Northside Fire District in Ponderay.

The board of commissioners has struggled with an adversarial group that has consistently attempted to disrupt meetings and county business over the past year, Omodt said.

Last summer, when Bradshaw was chair, he restricted public comments at meetings, first by removing them entirely, then placing them at the end of the meetings.

This prompted Commissioner Asia Williams, who is often at odds with Omodt and Bradshaw, to begin holding early morning “community chats” during the hour before weekly meetings to hear from the public.

The relationship on the commission devolved to the point that Williams has a protection order against Bradshaw for threats she claimed he made toward her.

All the officials involved – the commissioners, the sheriff and the prosecutor – are Republicans.

A joint statement by Prosecutor Louis Marshall and Wheeler posted to the sheriff’s official Facebook page Tuesday afternoon said the two individuals were placed under arrest by Omodt “in his individual capacity,” and that there was no vote by the full board of commissioners to trespass them.

Omodt said he has authority as chairman to preside over meetings and cited county code that says:

“Any unrecognized comments or disruptive behavior will be grounds for removal from the board meeting by the chair and may subject the person being removed to criminal prosecution according to law.”

The prosecutor-sheriff statement, however, said Omodt didn’t follow proper steps.

“There is a distinction between the chairman of the board ordering someone to leave a meeting and trespassing someone from a public building,” the joint statement said.

Omodt first attempted to have the county’s sergeant-at-arms remove Bowman from a Jan. 9 meeting.

In response, Bowman wrote an email to Bob Howard, the county’s emergency management director, complaining about how it was handled. He asked what training the sergeant had and challenged Omodt’s authority to order the sergeant to remove him.

“I would have been well within my rights in that moment to take offensive action to defend myself,” Bowman wrote in his Jan. 15 email, which was provided to The Spokesman-Review. “Instead I retreated; if it happens again I will not retreat.”

Bowman warned of the civil and criminal charges that could result if an altercation were to occur.

At another meeting on Jan. 23, Cramer interrupted heated discussion among the commissioners.

Omodt told him he was out of order.

“You know what, Luke? You can throw me out,” Cramer shouted as he stood and picked up his coat.

“You can just leave, Mr. Cramer, thank you,” Omodt said.

Cramer turned and spoke to the audience as Omodt continued to ask him to leave.

Then, Commissioner Asia Williams weighed in.

“Mr. Cramer, you don’t have to leave because a commissioner can say you are a guest and you can sit here,” she said. “There is no law broken.”

On hearing this, Cramer returned to his seat.

Omodt called for the sergeant-at-arms, who approached Cramer but kept a distance. Then Omodt recessed the meeting.

Bowman sent another email on Jan. 24, claiming that it is illegal to remove a citizen from a public space.

Bowman noted that Cramer was open-carrying a firearm at the meeting, and again, Bowman described what could happen if there was a conflict.

“Mr. Cramer was open carrying, which as anyone well-versed in weapons and self-defense knows, presents a very real risk in the event of a physical altercation, of escalating to a gun fight,” Bowman said. “An armed person cannot risk being on the losing end of a fight and having his weapon taken from him, so the weapon itself may very well end up being used to prevent it being taken.”

Bowman denied that this was a threat.

“While Omodt will likely again falsely deem this as a threat, I assure you it is not,” Bowman wrote. “Consider it an advisement.”

Bowman’s emails were carbon copied to the commissioners, Marshall and Wheeler.

In response, Omodt emailed Marshall and Wheeler before Friday’s meeting, notifying them that Bowman and Cramer were immediately trespassed from all Bonner County meetings for one year, until Jan. 25, 2025.

“The threats of violence and lawfare contained within Mr. Bowman’s last email are unacceptable,” Omodt wrote.

Omodt said Cramer had been removed from business meetings twice before for his “disruptive and disorderly conduct.”

At his news conference, Omodt emphasized the safety of the public and county employees, and noted that Bowman and Cramer still have the ability to participate at a distance, since meetings are broadcast over Zoom.

Bowman said Wednesday he has been advised not to talk to the press, but referred to the videos of the meetings, which are posted on the county’s YouTube page, and his emails, which are public record.

He said these speak for themselves.

Marshall and Wheeler said the video of the meeting shows there wasn’t any disruptive behavior by anyone prior to the order to leave.

A sheriff’s deputy has been attending some meetings in order to enforce the protection order against Bradshaw. Omodt complained that this deputy has not assisted with previous disruptions.

No deputy was present on Friday, as Williams was absent from the meeting.

“No crimes have been committed in the presence of any of the deputies who have sat through the meetings,” Wheeler said. “These deputies have decades of experience dealing with agitated people on almost a daily basis. Deputies will react if the situation calls for it and crimes are actually committed.”

In an interview, Omodt referred to a section of Idaho law that states “The sheriff must receive all persons committed to jail by competent authority …”

Omodt asked whether the sheriff was implying that he and the Sandpoint Police Department are not competent authorities.

Marshall said in an email that there is no obligation to book someone to jail from a citizen’s arrest.

“Citizens have the power to arrest people, but they don’t have the right after that to direct the process further,” Marshall said. “Prosecutors do not abdicate the power to charge or not charge individuals with alleged crimes to anyone including private parties, that is our constitutional and statutory duty. This is important as prosecutors are trained in the law and can spot when there might be issues with an arrest and/or need to examine police reports and probable cause affidavits. In this case to my knowledge a probable cause affidavit wasn’t submitted to my office for review. Prosecutors must protect the civil rights of the accused and must try to limit potential liability if the arrest turns out to have a legal defect.”

Marshall said he won’t make any determinations until all of the evidence and reports are submitted.

Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon did not respond to requests for an interview, but Sandpoint Mayor Jeremy Grimm issued a brief statement referencing sections of Idaho law, noting that Sandpoint Police Officers are granted the authority and responsibility to arrest anyone suspected of violating the law within city limits and are statutorily obliged and empowered to make such arrests, including the facilitation of private arrests.

Grimm said the actions of Sandpoint Police were in accordance with these provisions of Idaho Code.

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.