Almost a year after the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office charged a Meridian man with felony witness intimidation for an angry Facebook post that they said threatened a police officer and his family, prosecutors dismissed the charge as part of a plea agreement.
Matthew Townsend reached a plea deal with prosecutors on Friday, and the felony charge was dismissed on Monday, according to Townsend’s attorney and online court records.
Townsend said Wednesday that he has increased the privacy settings on his Facebook page, and he’s generally more guarded. He said he’s an activist at heart — and always will be — but the system is suppressing him.
“The last time I said what I wanted to say, I was threatened with five years in jail,” he said.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
He expressed concern about his practice of recording police traffic stops in Meridian, because he’s now under a no-contact order preventing him from going near the officer he was accused of threatening.
“Now I have to be concerned about which officer I’m recording,” he said. “Do I want to take the risk of going to jail by doing what I’ve been doing for years?”
The plea deal came after a judge declared a mistrial on Jan. 19, when Townsend’s attorney in opening statements revealed to the jury that the charge against his client was a felony. A new trial was set to begin next week.
“I had asked before, ‘Are you willing to dismiss this felony case? The answer was always no,’” said Aaron Tribble, Townsend’s attorney.
Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Jim Vogt did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Townsend, 30, faced five years in prison and a $50,000 fine on the felony charge.
As part of the agreement with prosecutors, Townsend pleaded guilty to misdemeanor resisting and obstructing a police officer in a case that preceded and was connected to the felony case. He faced up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine on that charge.
He was sentenced to serve 180 days in jail, but 179 days were suspended and he was given credit for serving one day. He will be on unsupervised probation for two years. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $657.50 and do 80 hours of community service.
Townsend, who works as a cook, said he’s spent about $10,000 in attorney fees, about half of which have been covered by funds donated by supporters. He said he had to move out of his Meridian house and into an apartment because he couldn’t make rent.
The misdemeanor arrest that upset Townsend last January occurred when he was out protesting taxes on a street corner. He was dressed up as the grim reaper, carrying a plastic sickle and playing death metal music.
He was arrested after walking away from a police officer who tried to talk to him about crosswalk laws. They disagreed over whether he had broken any laws in his use of a crosswalk. Townsend entered the crosswalk after the countdown clock began but there’s nothing on the books prohibiting that, his attorney said.
Townsend vented his frustration about the charge in a Facebook post on March 18. He tagged the Meridian Police Department, family members of the officer who arrested him and local news media.
In the post, he said that if the misdemeanor charge wasn’t dropped, he planned to begin a nonviolent “shame campaign” against the officer who arrested him, staging protests in the officer’s neighborhood, causing “upsets” at homeowners association meetings, sending mailers and more.
“I know where you all live – this is notification of knowledge and future protests, not a threat,” Townsend wrote.
At the close of the Facebook post, the 29-year-old said the state has a few options in dealing with him. He suggested that he could engage in “non-violent” retaliation and asked: “Do you want to be the focus of my rage?” He said another option was for the police to kill him and then deal with those who love him.