Moscow asks court to dismiss mask charges

Christ Church members and guests sing “The Doxology” during a “flash psalm sing” organized by the church in September outside Moscow City Hall.

The Moscow Legal Department has asked the Latah County Magistrate Court to dismiss misdemeanor charges issued against five people for allegedly violating the city’s face mask/social distancing order and resisting and obstructing justice, according to a city news release.

One of the five charged at the September anti-mask protest in the Moscow City Hall parking lot is former Latah County Commissioner candidate Gabriel Rench, R-Moscow, who lost the November election to incumbent Tom Lamar, D-Moscow.

The legal team indicated in the release that while Moscow city code gives the mayor the authority to issue public health emergency orders, exemptions to such an order include “any and all expressive and associative activity that is protected by the U.S. and Idaho constitutions, including speech, press, assembly, and/or religious activity,” unless those are specifically prohibited.

September’s event was promoted as a psalm singing event hosted by Christ Church in Moscow.

The five charged with allegedly violating the mask order — Rench, Tyler Marines, Jesse Broussard, Rachel Bohnet and Sean Bohnet — pleaded not guilty to the charge. The Bohnet couple also pleaded not guilty to resisting or obstructing officers.

The mask order states it applies to “every person in the City of Moscow,” but does not specifically provide that the order applies to speech, press, assembly and/or religious activity protected by the U.S. and Idaho constitutions.

City Supervisor Gary Riedner indicated in the release that the mayor and Moscow City Council intended the order to apply to all persons in the city, regardless of the nature of activities.

“The omission by City staff to include the specific language ... is unfortunate and has resulted in confusion,” Riedner wrote in the release.

Riedner said in the release that he apologizes for the staff’s role in that confusion and is proud of the city attorney’s office for discovering the omission. He said dismissal of the citations is the right thing to do.

City Attorney Mia Bautista said in the release that the amended public health emergency order is effective and valid for all activities not exempt by city code. She said the legal department and Moscow Police Department will continue to investigate and prosecute violations of the order and any violations of future emergency orders and mandatory provisions of Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s Stage 2 order.

Bautista said in the release Mayor Bill Lambert and the city council directed staff to prepare recommended amendments to city code to address these issues.

The Moscow City Council Administrative Committee will consider those recommendations at its meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday. The full city council will then consider any recommendations at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 19.

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