Friday, October 3, 2014

New trustee resigns from school board

Misdemeanor battery charge pending against Rick Roberts


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Richard “Rick” Roberts

     The Blaine County School District announced Thursday that new district Trustee Richard “Rick” Roberts has resigned from the school board.

     Neither a news release announcing the resignation, nor Roberts’ letter of resignation sent to the board on Wednesday mention the fact that Roberts is currently facing a misdemeanor battery charge for allegedly grabbing a 16-year-old boy by the neck at a concert by the band The Head and the Heart at River Run on Aug. 29.

     “We want the public to know that we were not aware of this until Thursday afternoon and after the press release went out,” said district Communications Director Heather Crocker.

     Roberts’ attorney Douglas Nelson said in an interview Thursday that his client is innocent.

     Roberts wrote in his letter of resignation that he was resigning because “personal issues and commitments that didn’t exist when I was appointed have made it impossible for me to continue to serve effectively on the board. I regret any distraction to the board my resignation may cause.”

     Roberts was appointed to the board in May to fill the Zone 4 trustee vacancy created by former school board Chairman Paul Bates, who resigned in January after complaints emerged that underage people drank alcohol at his mid-valley home during a New Year’s Eve party on Jan 1. In his letter of resignation, Bates stated that he went to bed early that evening and was unaware of the alcohol situation. Nonetheless, he acknowledged responsibility because it occurred at his home.

     According to the district news release, Roberts’ resignation will be formally accepted at the next school board regular meeting on Oct. 14. An announcement will be made after that asking for volunteers and describing the process for selecting a new Zone 4 trustee. Zone 4 includes mostly the west Ketchum area and areas west of state Highway 75 from just north of Hailey to the Blaine County border with Custer County.

     School board Chairman Shawn Bennion praised Roberts for his four months of service on the board.

     “I am grateful to Rick for his service on the board,” Bennion stated. “He has been a great board member and helped make an impact during the short time he served. I’m confident in our current team moving forward as we continue to put kids first.”

     Other board members are Vice Chair Kathryn Graves, Kathy Baker and Elizabeth Schwerdtle.

     Roberts lauded the board in his letter of resignation.

     “I have particular admiration for the individual members of the board, whose tireless voluntary efforts in a sometimes thankless position deserves our great respect,” he stated. “It has been a pleasure to serve with each of you.”

     Roberts, an attorney, has lived with his wife and son in the Wood River Valley for two years.

     In the criminal case pending against him, Roberts was not arrested but was instead issued a citation on Aug. 29 by Ketchum police Sgt. Skip Liddle. He pleaded not guilty to the charge on Sept 3 and is scheduled for a pretrial conference at 2 p.m. on Monday before Judge R. Ted Israel in Blaine County Magistrate Court.

     A probable-cause affidavit filed in the case by Sgt. Liddle alleges that Roberts grabbed the 16-year-old boy by the neck and forced him to the ground after the boy “spit a loogie” in the vicinity of where Roberts was seated with his family. According to the report, the boy claimed that he didn’t intend to hit Roberts with the spit and that in landed in the grass “five to six feet to the right” of where Roberts was sitting.

     Roberts told Liddle that the boy’s “spit traveled over his shoulder and landed near his foot” and that he “felt the spit on his neck.” Roberts acknowledged confronting the boy, but said he only pushed him “in the upper torso/shoulder area.”

     Liddle wrote further that he “observed redness on [the boy’s] neck and a small abrasion near his collarbone.”

     Nelson, speaking on behalf of Roberts, pointed out that spitting on someone can also be charged as misdemeanor battery.

     “From my client’s perspective, this guy hawked a big loogie on him,” Nelson said, adding that a jury will recognize that if someone “spits on you that you are obligated to do something about it.”

     Nelson also disputed the boy’s claim.

     “He [Roberts] did not grab him by the neck,” Nelson said. “He grabbed him by the shoulders and said, ‘Don’t do that.’”




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