On February 2, Matthew Townsend was standing on the sidewalk near a Liberty Tax Service office in Meridian, Idaho dressed as the Grim Reaper, holding a sign that said “Taxes ≠ liberty, Taxes fund terrorism.”
For this simple display of activism, which was a play off the usual characters dressed in Statue of Liberty costumers, Townsend would find himself arrested and jailed, charged with resisting and obstruction by a Meridian cop named Richard Brockbank.
Seven weeks later, a day after attending a hearing for that arrest, Townsend was arrested a second time after police banged on his door at 10 p.m., rousing him from his sleep, charging him with witness intimidation over a Facebook post he had made two nights earlier that police described as a “terrorist threat.”
In that post, which you can read below, he tagged several journalists, activists, friends as well as some of Brockbank’s family members.
Meridian police and Ada County prosecutors had to find a second judge to sign the arrest warrant after a previous judge had refused to sign it for lack of probable cause.
The identity of the judge who signed the warrant remains a mystery because the warrant was immediately sealed.
Now Townsend is facing five years in prison for the witness intimidation charge in addition to the one year in jail for the obstructing charge.
This is how he described the second arrest in a Facebook conversation with Photography is Not a Crime:
I was sleeping when it happened. I woke up to someone knocking on the door and my dogs barking. I put the dogs away, saw that there were cops outside the window, and opened the door. I was cuffed and told that they had a warrant for my arrest.
“An officer pulled up and told me that I had to get out of the road, and that I couldn’t be blocking traffic,” said Townsend. “He tried to get me to agree with him that I was blocking traffic. And I didn’t. He asked me for my name; I gave him my name. He asked me for my ID; I told him I didn’t have it on me.”
Despite Townsend’s lack of criminal activity, Meridian police officer Richard Brockbank was determined to make an arrest.
“He asked me if I had been drinking and … kept trying to get me to agree with him that I was blocking traffic,” said Townsend. “He said, `Well, I saw you.’ I said, `Then charge me.’ And he was silent – just stops, silent. I turned around and hit the button [on the crosswalk signal light]. It said `Go,’ so I started crossing. Half-way across the intersection he starts yelling that he’s not done with me. I stopped on the next corner. He walked over there, and other officers pulled up, and I got arrested.”
Officer Brockbank arrested and two other officers arrested Townsend despite Townsend breaking no laws and offering no resistance. Ironically, one of the arresting officers told Townsend he needs to “read the Constitution.”
For threatening to use advertisements and a media campaign to shed light on his unlawful arrest, the Meridian PD and prosecutor’s office not only found a judge to issue an arrest warrant against Townsend for felony witness intimidation, they had the judge issue a no-contact order that forbids Townsend from coming within 100 feet of Officer Brockbank.
I find it ironic that I was arrested in an effort to stop me from going to the public about Officer Brockbank and other officers at the Meridian Police Department concerning arresting me illegally… and I’m the one being charged with intimidation. It’s even more ironic that the second arrest helped bring this story to the attention of far more people than I could have done on my own.
In order to persuade the second judge to sign the warrant, the Ada County District Attorney’s Office drafted a warrant that omitted the phrase “non violent and legal shaming” that Townsend had included in his Facebook post, but adding the word “rage” in quotations, even though he had not used that word once in the entire thread.
Townsend has yet to go to trial on either charge, but intends to fight them all the way. He is scheduled to attend a preliminary hearing for the felony charge on April 15. His next hearing for the misdemeanor is May 11.
UPDATE: After posting this story, Townsend sent me a message, informing that he did, in fact, use the word rage in his Facebook post, but edited it. Below is the post he wrote that the district attorney is referring to in its warrant.
The exact sentence is in the second option he listed below: “Endure my non-violent retaliation (do you want to be the focus of my rage?)”.
But seeing how they twisted his words out of context to obtain a warrant, neglecting to mention that he was very specific in that his actions would be “non-violent,” it is no wonder why he is so enraged.