GREAT FALLS – A woman accused of punching a police officer as he escorted her from a chaotic Great Falls City Commission meeting has been convicted of misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct.
Susan Overfield, of the Vaughn area, punched detective Art Schalin below the belt during the commission meeting June 19. A Municipal Court jury convicted Overfield, 52, on Friday.
Schalin was not in uniform and Overfield said he did not identify himself as a police officer when he tried to remove her. Mayor Dona Stebbins had ordered that Overfield be removed from her position at a lectern because she exceeded a three-minute limit on persons wishing to speaking during the public-comment portion of the meeting. Overfield had been criticizing city officials, in connection with the Great Falls animal shelter.
Defense attorney Kenneth Olson said Overfield’s rights to free speech and participation in government were violated at the meeting.
“This is America,” Olson said. “This isn’t a place where we shout people down and cut them off.”
He also said the City Commission meeting was Overfield’s first, and she did not know all the rules. Overfield thought she was being assaulted by someone from the audience, and believed she had a right to defend herself, the attorney said.
Prosecutor Chad Parker said problems began when Overfield refused to sit down as directed.
“Never once does she ask, ‘Can I have additional time?'” Parker said. “She just demands. She’s trying to control the meeting. She is out of order.”
Judge Nancy Luth sentenced Overfield to five days of confinement at her home, imposed $770 in fines and ordered her to pay $510 in jury costs.
In August, the time limit for public comment at City Commission meetings increased to five minutes.
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