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McHugh: No felony in rally incident

Staff Writer | January 28, 2021 1:08 AM

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said Wednesday that no felony charges will be filed in connection with a Jan. 6 incident between a car driver and a group along U.S. 95 supporting President Donald Trump.

The man driving reportedly bumped two people with his car and later as he tried to leave the scene displayed a handgun and allegedly threatened others with it.

“Idaho law supports actions in self-defense reasonably intended to defend against a perceived threat,” according to a press release from the Prosecutor’s Office. “McHugh has concluded that based on the suspect’s reasonable fear when confronted by armed and unarmed individuals, the evidence did not support a charge of aggravated assault." 

McHugh said the suspect, whose name was not released, could still face misdemeanor charges. 

McHugh said he reviewed police reports, video recording and witness statements about what happened when hundreds of people gathered between Appleway and Haycraft avenues with signs and flags as part of the rally.

The suspect told police he intended to turn right onto Haycraft and was going very slow in the turning lane "when a man jumped out in front of his car and said the suspect had run over him,” the release said. “The suspect said his car hit the man — the alleged victim — when he was going approximately 1 mile per hour. The suspect said the alleged victim was knocked down, but jumped right up, appearing unhurt.”

The suspect said he started to stop, but drove away and turned right on Haycraft because the alleged victim was hitting his car with a flagstick.

Rachael Johnson, who had been holding a sign near the highway and said she was pulled to safety, said the vehicle brushed her leg.

“As to a charge of aggravated assault relating to the driving of the vehicle, McHugh did not find there exists sufficient evidence for that felony offense,” the release said. "While one witness reported the  suspect swerved toward the alleged victim, it appears the witness was not close by. No other witnesses said the suspect swerved, and the action of veering to the right may have happened as the suspect was moving into the right hand turn lane."

Johnson, in a previous interview, told The Press she had no doubt that the driver intentionally bumped her and the other man with his car.

“You don’t accidentally bump into a person,” she told The Press. “A lot of people were yelling at him to stop.”

“It was quite frightening,” the St. Maries woman said.

McHugh also concluded that a felony charge of leaving the scene of an injury accident was not appropriate based on the need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect knew or should have known that an injury was sustained.

“Both the suspect and the alleged victim told law enforcement officers that the alleged victim got right up after being knocked down, which appears to support the suspect’s belief that there were no injuries,” the release said.

McHugh next evaluated whether additional aggravated assault charges were appropriate. 

After turning onto Haycraft, the suspect turned right into a parking lot and drove to the rear of a few retail businesses. After driving a short distance to the east, the suspect’s path was blocked by a parked moving truck with employees engaged in unloading furniture.

The suspect pulled a pistol from his pocket as he got out of his car, and saw two armed men approaching from the area of the crowd next to U.S. 95, the release said.

"The suspect told the furniture store employees they needed to move the truck, and was gesturing with his hands, one of which held the pistol," the release said. "Furniture store employees later stated that the suspect pointed the gun at them during this exchange.

"A video taken by one of the furniture store employees shows that, while the suspect pointed the gun at the employees, the action occurred while he was gesturing with his hands and trying to get the employees to move the truck so he could leave what was quickly escalating into a confrontation," the release said.

According to McHugh, "the evidence supports a conclusion that the suspect pulled the gun not to threaten the furniture store employees, but to defend himself against a perceived threat."

Bill Divine of Pinehurst told The Press in a previous interview he ran after the car. He said the suspect got out, pointed the gun at him and threatened to shoot him.

He said he was not armed and he feared for his life.

“The whole thing stinks,” he told The Press. “There’s some guy out there who said he’s going to shoot me twice and I don’t know if he’s in jail or not.”

McHugh said that Idaho law supports actions in self-defense reasonably intended to defend against a perceived threat.

“Everyone who drew a gun indicated it was done based on a concern for their life or the life of others," the release said.