ST. ALBANS — A refusal to apologize to police brought local attorney Peter J.R. Martin back before a criminal court judge on Tuesday.
In December, Martin, who is in his mid-70s, pled no contest to a disorderly conduct charge and was ordered to appear before the reparative board.
The charges stemmed from a June 11, 2014 incident in which Martin was pulled over by St. Albans Police Officer Mike Malinowski for having tinted windows. His car then became stuck beside the road and he attempted to prevent the tow truck driver contacted by police from towing his car.
Attempts by the reparative board to enter into a contract with Martin failed, prosecutor Christopher Perkett, a deputy state’s attorney in Addison County brought in to handle this case, told the judge.
The reparative board required that Martin apologize to the officer who stopped and ultimately arrested him. “Mr. Martin could not do that in good faith,” said Peter Langrock, Martin’s attorney.
“If Mr. Martin were prepared to apologize that is all we would be asking,” Perkett told judge Howard Van Benthuysen.
Absent an apology, the state sought a sentence of 10 to 30 days, suspended with probation for one year. There were two specific conditions of probation sought by the state – 40 hours of community service and an apology to the community to appear in the Messenger.
Perkett sought to admit letters written by Martin to St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor, Lt. Judy Dunn and Franklin County’s then senators, Norm McAllister and Don Collins in 2014. “They go to his state of mind at the time of the disorderly conduct,” said Perkett.
The letters also showed why an apology to Officer Malinowski would not be forthcoming, according to Perkett.
Langrock objected to the letters, stating, “Most anyone in St. Albans knows Mr. Martin has a low opinion of the police department.” Those opinions are protected speech, Langrock said.
“I want to proffer to the court the low opinion this defendant has of all law enforcement,” said Perkett.
Van Benthuysen did not admit the letters.
Martin’s conduct had inconvenienced the public by disrupting traffic flow on a public road, Perkett argued, and Martin should apologize “to the people of St. Albans for inconveniencing them with his disorderly conduct.”
“That’s a bunch of nonsense,” said Langrock. “There’s no indication anything he did inconvenienced anyone.”
However, a jury might conceivably find Martin’s actions that day were threatening to the tow truck driver, and Langrock suggested that was the reason his client was willing to plea no contest. Martin also was willing to apologize to the driver, said Langrock.
Probation for one year in this case was “not fitting,” said Langrock, suggesting a fine instead. He called the proposed sentence an attempt to intimidate Martin because of his criticism of police. “It kind of reminds me of what happened in France,” said Langrock in reference to the shooting at satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 11 dead and another 11 people injured.
Perkett replied that sentences are meant to deter future poor conduct and punish the wrongdoer. “A fine, in the state’s opinion, won’t get it done,” he told the court. Community service was needed to deter future poor behavior from Martin, in Perkett’s view.
“I am the right wing, conservative, law and order guy,” Martin told the judge.
Of his sentence, he said, “I’m to be punished for this when I was viciously assaulted from behind.”
In the video of the incident, Martin, after being instructed to allow the towing of the vehicle, can be seen trying to stop the tow truck driver from opening his car door. When Martin got physical with the driver, Malinowski intervened. A short scuffle ensued and Martin fell to the ground.
Malinowski drew his Taser and then noticed Martin’s Smith and Wesson handgun on the ground.
After moving the gun out of reach, Malinowski ordered Martin onto his stomach. Martin instead tried to rise and Malinowski pushed him onto his stomach and cuffed him. Once Martin was secure, Malinowski removed the bullets from Martin’s weapon.
Martin told the judge that the tow truck driver insisted he pay cash or the fee would be doubled.
Claiming to have been permanently injured during the incident, Martin said, “This is a Twilight Zone episode as far as I’m concerned.”
Ruling from the bench, Van Benthuysen said probation is “not the first response the court would jump to in a case of this gravity.”
Probation, suggested Van Benthuysen, is a scarce resource, particularly in light of proposed cuts to the Dept. of Corrections budget. He specifically criticized the proposed elimination of the high school program for inmates.
Instead of probation, he is requiring Martin to apologize to the tow truck driver, pay a fine of $250 and make a donation of $250 to the Wounded Warrior program.
“I think it’s a sentence, frankly, that’s in proportion to the alleged conduct,” said Van Benthuysen.