Court House

MISSOULA - Over a month after allegedly tackling a black teen at a Black Lives Matter rally, Mark Belden has been charged with two misdemeanors. But this week, community members are calling for an added charge, Felony Hate Crime.

Monday's City Council meeting began with multiple public comments, all asking the same question.

"Do you think these charges are sufficient," Rabbi Laurie Franklin asked Monday, "It's just two misdemeanors, there are no felonies, no simple assault charges, no hate crime?" 

Last Friday, Belden was charged with two misdemeanors: Unlawful Restraint and acting as a private security guard without a licence. But why did the City Attorney choose these charges and not push a Felony Hate Crime?

First of all, a City Attorney in Montana can not prosecute a felony charge, those charges fall to the County Attorney, and he said he considered it.

"The issue we have to look at is why those people did what they did," Missoula Chief Deputy County Attorney Matt Jennings said.

In these cases "why" becomes the key word, Jennings brought up two examples of hate crime cases the county has prosecuted in the past, sometimes they are straight forward.

"In 2015, a woman assaulted a man in her neighborhood who is an African American and she is white. She did so using vulgar racial slurs. So her attack was obviously racially motivated," Jennings said.

That woman was convicted, but other cases showed proving "why" is the hard part.

"In another very unfortunate incident where someone wrote very hateful words on a person's vehicle that were anti-semitic and the family was Jewish. We tried to take that case forward but it demonstrated some of the difficulties of this," Jennings said, "Even though writing an anti-semitic slur on a Jewish families' car would be a hate crime, the court actually dismissed that case because we couldn't prove that the person did so because of their religion."

So for Belden's case the County Attorney, the City Attorney, and the Missoula Police Department all worked together to gather and examine the facts of the case. In the end they decided the two misdemeanor charges were the way to go.

"In this case the facts didn't support a hate crime against that person and we spent a lot of time looking into it and we cant bring charges forward unless we have probable cause to do," Jennings said, "But I'm convinced that in this case the city attorneys office will find some justice."

According to the Municipal Court, Belden has not appeared before a judge yet. He has until Friday, July 31 to do so.

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