An Ada County judge on Wednesday granted a motion to dismiss a trespassing charge against a Meridian woman who refused to leave a closed public playground, saying the court had “no power to prosecute” if the attorney general’s office did not want to move forward with it .
Newly elected Attorney General Raúl Labrador filed a special prosecutor’s motion to dismiss on Jan. 5, three days after he took office. The motion maintained that, while Sara Walton Brady did trespass in 2020, the state did not have a strong enough case to win a jury trial, which was set to begin on Jan. 24.
In a news release, Labrador characterized Walton Brady’s arrest as a sign of “significant government overreach.”
“Going forward, we will focus the people’s resources on prosecuting child exploiters and other serious criminals — not mothers who take their kids to the park,” Labrador said.
Walton Brady was an outspoken supporter of Labrador’s attorney general campaign, according to social media posts.
The court “took the matter under advice” and set a status conference for Jan. 12. One day before that hearing was to take place, Magistrate Judge Adam Kimball issued an order to grant the dismissal.
“In a situation where the state no longer wishes to prosecute a case, the court has little to do,” Kimball wrote in his nine-page order. “It could deny the motion to dismiss and leave the case set for trial. The reality is, however, that the court does not call witnesses or make arguments. Those tasks alone rest with the state and defense in our adversarial system of justice.”
The judge noted that, under Idaho Criminal Rule 48, he could dismiss a case for any reason “if the court concludes that dismissal will serve the ends of justice and the effective administration of the court’s business.”
Kimball said administrative challenges could arise if the court did not dismiss Walton Brady’s case.
“Not dismissing a case the state seeks to dismiss would impose an unnecessary and undue burden upon the panel of potential judges, courthouse staff, and the public,” wrote Kimball. “Requiring those impositions to occur in a case the state will not prosecute is contrary to the effective administration of the court’s business.”
The judge said dismissing the case serves the end of justice because “if the state will not prosecute a case, then the ends of justice require that the accused no longer be held to answer or remain in jeopardy.”
Labrador told the Idaho Statesman he was “grateful” for the judge’s decision.
“It validates the unanimous recommendation by all prosecutors assigned to the case, which the attorney general took seriously,” Labrador said in an email. “We agree with the court; dismissal serves the ends of justice.”
Labrador: A ‘profound waste’ of resources
In a news release last week, Labrador said Walton Brady’s case should never have been prosecuted.
“It has been a profound waste of precious taxpayer resources,” the Labrador said. “Going forward, we will focus the people’s resources on prosecuting child exploiters and other serious criminals — not mothers who take their kids to the park.”
Meridian Major Robert Simison spoke out against Labrador’s motion.
“The attorney general’s apparent philosophy to selectively dismiss cases of his choosing and endorsing illegal behavior is abhorrent,” Simison said in a statement. “I support the people’s right to assemble for peaceful protest, but that right does not include ignoring legal orders or being free from the legal ramifications of those actions.”
Trespassing charges go back nearly two years
Walton Brady was arrested on April 21, 2020, at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian and charged with a misdemeanor for first offense of trespassing. The Boise city attorney’s office identified a conflict of interest and the case was reassigned to the Idaho attorney general for prosecution, according to Kimball’s order.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival in Idaho, Meridian closed public parks and taped off playground equipment. In April 2020, Walton Brady and other families organized a gathering at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian. Walton Brady was an activist for “parental medical rights” and ran a Facebook page called Idahoans for Vaccine Freedom at the time of her arrest, according to a previous Statesman reporting.
A police officer informed those gathered that the playground structure was closed, and that they were welcome to use open areas of the park, the Statesman reported.
Walton Brady, who was using Facebook Live, was seen arguing as several police officers repeatedly asked the group to leave. When she refused, Walton Brady was arrested.
A video of Walton Brady’s arrest went viral on social media and prompted a flood of hundreds of calls to Ada County emergency dispatch. Many callers hurled insults and threats at dispatch operators, public records showed. A group of people, including former gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy, gathered outside the home of the arresting officer.
Characterizing the incident as tyranny and vowing to fight back, she pleaded not guilty in July 2020.
In a text message, Walton Brady told the Statesman on Thursday that she was happy and relieved, and that she had never spoke with Labrador about her case,
“The emotional and financial toll this has taken on myself and family is something that no one should have to go through,” she said, “but I’m thankful that I’ve maintained my innocence, and that’s the true win.”