A city worker’s traffic ticket was overturned Oct. 31 after a judge found insufficient evidence to convict.
The city official’s heated testimony, however, suggests ongoing high tensions between city and county officials in St. Maries.
Mark Reynolds, the public works director for St. Maries, challenged a speeding ticket issued by a deputy of the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office, saying that it was unfounded. He claimed several times during the trial that he believed a schism between city and county officials over traffic revenues and budget played a part in his receiving a ticket.
Deputy Anthony Peterson testified to Judge Doug Payne that he issued a speeding ticket to Mr. Reynolds Sept. 18 at approximately 7:40 a.m. between Main Ave. and College Ave. near the Heyburn Elementary School. He said that he was watching for speed violators near the area when he saw a white pickup he believed to be speeding approaching from the east. He turned on his radar and said he clocked the vehicle near 30 mph. The speed limit for the area is 25 mph.
Deputy Peterson turned on his lights as the vehicle turned off of Main Ave. and stopped it to issue a ticket. The driver was Mr. Reynolds, and the vehicle was a St. Maries city vehicle.
Mr. Reynolds denied that he had been speeding. He presented logs from a radar speed sign set up near the school zone – a sign that he and city work crews had put up and calibrated to reduce speeding instances. The records showed that during the time indicated on the ticket – around 7:40 a.m. – there were no recorded instances of anyone driving over 25 mph. The first such violation that day did not take place until after 8 a.m.
He acknowledged that the equipment might not be as accurate as police models, but his crews took pains to calibrate them to within 1 mph using their vehicles.
In his testimony, Mr.Reynolds suggested tensions between the city and county may have been partly to blame for his ticket. He believed tensions had been heightened following a budget discussion regarding law enforcement in St. Maries and the city’s enforcement agreement with the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office.
“This particular budget season, we had lots of patrons ask questions about the enforcement agreement that the county and city have,” Mr. Reynolds said. “So (the elected officials) were doing their jobs by asking questions, such as how many officers, how many hours, things like that.”
During those conversations, he said, Mayor Tom Carver brought up the topic of revenues and traffic enforcement, saying fewer citations were issued by the sheriff’s office compared to the disbanded St. Maries police department.
Mr. Reynolds testified that he believed the comment was taken out of context. He said he believed the comment created a rift between county and city personnel, which may have biased deputies against city personnel.
“It was just like something took over our community, and everybody was getting pulled over,” Mr. Reynolds said. “I don’t think our community changes overnight, I think we’re a close-knit community. I don’t think we turn from innocent people to everybody getting pulled over 14 or 15 times in a day. I think there was a driving force behind the whole thing, and I’m disappointed people act that way.”
There has been an increase in traffic citations issued in Benewah County in previous weeks. In September, 25 citations were issued in St. Maries – up from 8 citations in August and 3 in July. Sources told the Gazette Record the increase followed a meeting between law enforcement and Mayor Tom Carver, in which he allegedly asked for more traffic enforcement.
Mayor Carver denied any such request. Sheriff Resser commented that the mayor has “no control over the deputies.”
Deputy Peterson denied any personal or professional bias played a role in his decision, saying he was unable to see that the vehicle was a city vehicle when he clocked its speed. Further, he said he only issued a ticket in that instance because it occurred near Heyburn Elementary while children were present.
“And that’s the truth – I give warnings when it’s not a school zone,” he said. “I would not have given a speeding ticket if it wasn’t a school zone. I would have given you a warning anywhere else in the city.”
Mr. Reynolds objected that he was allegedly clocked near 11th or 13th Street, which is outside of established school zones.
Judge Payne ruled that Deputy Peterson had not demonstrated any bias by issuing a ticket in this case; however, he also said Mr. Reynolds’ testimony and evidence had introduced reasonable doubt about whether a ticket was warranted. He therefore decided to dismiss the ticket.
The judge reminded both parties that they, as well as the St. Maries community at large, all desire the same things, and should not let divisions interfere with that.
“We should all be on the same team here. There’s nobody in this room that’s not a respectful person who wants a peaceful and law-abiding community where people drive reasonably,” he said.
“I’m hoping out of this that the city and the county can get together and resolve whatever issues there are, and move forward to do the right things on both parts,” Mr. Reynolds said in response. “I’m just the person in the middle, putting up the signs.”