$750,000 Tort Claim Filed Against Bonner County

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The claim names both Commissioner Luke Omodt and Commissioner Steve Bradshaw as individuals, as well as the county itself. Both Omodt and Bradshaw lost their recent primary races.

SANDPOINT, Idaho – Early in May, a Supplemental Notice of Tort Claim was submitted to County Clerk Michael Rosedale on behalf of Bonner County resident Rick Cramer regarding the trespass order issued in January. Cramer appealed the decision in April and the board voted to overturn the decision.

The supplemental notice states, “The April 4, 2024, decision to grant the appeal, reverse the decision to trespass, and lift the trespass does not cure the aforesaid constitutional infirmities during the period of time in which the trespass from March 7, 2024, through April 4, 2024, was the official policy of Bonner County.” It concludes that Cramer’s “reputation was significantly damaged as a result of the wrongful arrest, the wrongful trespass, and the wrongful comments of the commissioners” and seeks punitive damages in an amount which may be 10 times the actual jury award.

Minutes before the opening of the quarterly budget meeting on January 26, Cramer was sent an email notice that he was “Immediately trespassed from all county meetings.” Cramer was already in the county building and was seated with several other attendees.

He was asked to leave by Chairman Luke Omodt and refused. The Sandpoint Police were called but decided not to take action based on the evidence. Omodt decided to place Cramer, along with Dave Bowman, under a citizen’s arrest. The gentlemen were escorted out of the building and brought to the county jail. At that point, Prosecuting Attorney Louis Marshall made the decision to release the two individuals.

The initial Notice of Tort Claim was filed February 26 against Luke Omodt, Steve Bradshaw, and Bonner County for $750,000.

At the March 7 Bonner County Commissioners special meeting, the board voted 2 to 1 in a formal motion to trespass Cramer and Bowman, with Commissioner Williams dissenting. Williams made many attempts to have discussions on the motion and even asked if Bradshaw should be formally trespassed based on his behavior which resulted in a current restraining order.

A formal letter was subsequently mailed as a notice of the trespass which explained the reason to be for “being regularly disruptive at business meetings” and “attempting to harass or intimidate County Staff from performing the functions and responsibilities of their job.” The notice also explained his right to appeal to be submitted within ten (10) calendar days.

Legal advice from Marshall repeatedly cautioned Omodt and the board not to proceed in this direction of infringing on freedom of speech and public participation. Marshall wrote, “Both local government entities and local government public employees in the individual capacities may be liable to breaching a citizens First amendment public participation right.” He encouraged de-escalating the situation.

Marshall added, “Individuals such as county commissioners, the personnel, and individual law enforcement offices can face individual Section 1983 liability for wrongfully removing a citizen for a LPF (limited public forum) public meeting.”

Based on public records requests, Clerk Michael Rosedale reported his concerns to Marshall last fall, reporting that the commissioners’ clerks “all feel very threatened.” Numerous email communications were made from these staffers stating the increased physical and mental stress due to the contentious work environment created by the current BOCC conflicts with citizens. An additional concern centered around the office security cameras, which a number of public records requests were submitted for specific date and time periods.

Among the clerks’ witness statements submitted to the Sandpoint Police Department and the attached emails, are descriptions of the many factors that have contributed to the stressful work environment, but only a few specific references to Cramer.

A report by Eric Rose, a partner at Englander Knabe & Allen (EKA) an independent public affairs agency, calculated the reputational repair campaign would cost $705,000. Rose further stated that it is his professional opinion that the record supports Cramer’s contention that the defendants’ actions significantly diminished his reputation.