by Travis Mateer
In trying to keep up with local news, I almost missed a story about a dangerous sounding situation with a person well-known to law enforcement. Who? That little piece of info is NOT included in this Missoulian story. Why not? From the link:
On March 22, police responded to a report that a man threatened someone with a knife near East Addison Street and Stephens Avenue. When officers arrived, the suspect was carrying several bags. He followed officer commands to put the bags down, Missoula County charging documents allege, but then pulled a machete.
A policeman drew his pistol, ordering the suspect to drop the blade. The situation escalated, with the man walking away from the officer and toward a patrol car. The officer then shot two cartridges from his Taser, and “neither had any effect,” charging documents state.
According to the affidavit, the officer and suspect walked around the car while the officer’s gun was aimed at the man. More deputies and officers arrived.
Officers knew the suspect from prior interactions where he allegedly carried weapons, according to the affidavit. The suspect eventually threw the machete into a pile of leaves and sat down. He was subsequently arrested.
First let me say GOOD JOB to local law enforcement for not killing this dangerous person, since it’s usually only the BAD stuff cops get the credit for. Now, let’s take a look at the Missoula County Detention Portal and see if we can figure out who got arrested for felony assault with a weapon and resisting arrest on March 22nd, 2023, in Missoula County. Is it this guy?
I think it probably is, and not just because the date and charges line up. Helio Leal De La Hoz has an entire other Missoulian article about WHY he’s so well-known to law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Pay close attention to the name of the judge. From the link (emphasis mine):
The Montana Supreme Court ruled last week against the Missoula County District Court, arguing the court was unlawfully keeping a man in jail while his pending cases were incorrectly transferred to the district court from the city’s municipal court.
Helio Leal De La Hoz faces two sets of misdemeanor charges, from July 2021 and May 2022 alleged offenses. The Supreme Court’s ruling sides with Leal De La Hoz, arguing the misdemeanor offenses didn’t belong in the district court’s jurisdiction, which handles felony cases. It also ordered him released from jail.
Leal De La Hoz was charged with two misdemeanor offenses in July of 2021, and four more misdemeanor offenses in a separate incident in May of this year. For the July 2021 charges, he was ordered unfit to proceed. In the May cases, Leal De La Hoz made an initial appearance and was held on a $600 bond.
He was not arraigned for the May charges. Instead, Municipal Court Judge Eli Parker opted to transfer the two cases to Missoula County District Court.
Parker explains in his affidavit that he requested the Missoula County District Court to assume jurisdiction over the case because community-based treatment options didn’t give sufficient support for Leal De La Hoz. Parker contended that this was the only available option to give Leal De La Hoz treatment.
Let’s deepen the irony of this situation by contextualizing Eli Parker as one of the three Westridge Defenders elected to his judge job last election cycle. Yes, the same one who had to call the cops on the homeless woman who took temporary shelter in his unlocked car on election night. From the link (emphasis mine):
“Last night at our election party, I came out to my car and I found a homeless woman in my car,” said the public defender Parker. “No, my car wasn’t locked. That’s my fault. It actually doesn’t lock from the outside. I asked her, ‘Would you please get out of my car I’m going to have to call 911’. And the officer came and that’s what it took to get her out, and we had an interesting conversation about well, do you want to ticket her or not, and I chose to.”
Parker said his choice was to just let her go and repeat what she did to someone else, or have her arrested so that she might get access to services that might be able to help her.
Is it possible to have an irony aneurysm? Because I think I’m having one right now, writing about this bullshit…ok, it passed. Whew! Let’s continue. But not before taking a look at the judge risking our community by politicizing his complicity in the failure of the criminal justice system. Here he is:
And here’s more from the “high court” Missoulian article (emphasis mine):
Parker notes a person in jail on misdemeanor offenses who’s deemed unfit to proceed could be incarcerated longer than the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor offense.
“Nevertheless, I remain acutely aware that community-based treatment has limits,” Parker wrote. “I requested Judge Larson assume jurisdiction because, in Helio’s case, community-based treatment had failed, resulting in what seemed an unmitigated safety risk to himself and the public.”
Parker also noted the municipal court’s financial constraints, saying in the past, Missoula’s municipal court dismisses criminal proceedings when a defendant is found unfit to proceed because of limited court resources and the money involved with the commitment process for treatment.
Later in the article, the matter of judicial jurisdiction is further examined, but NOT further clarified. One takeaway I’m seeing, though, is how charging someone with a misdemeanor instead of a felony has more implications than I was aware of. From the link:
Larson also notes that historically, the Missoula County District Court has worked with limited-jurisdiction courts (such as Missoula Municipal) where drug use and mental health treatment issues are present.
While they understand the municipal and district court’s actions were aimed at mitigating harm to the community and getting Leal De La Hoz on a treatment plan, the Supreme Court justices wrote that courts have to stay within their jurisdictions.
Looking at the May 2022 incident where Leal De La Hoz was charged with four misdemeanors, the Supreme Court wrote, “The District Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction in that case and it was unnecessary and imprudent to purport to transfer the case out of the Municipal Court.” All the charges were misdemeanors, therefore they only belong in the municipal court’s jurisdiction.
Leal De La Hoz’s district court cases were dismissed without prejudice by the Supreme Court, and transferred back to Missoula’s municipal court for future proceedings. He was released from custody.
Well, it looks like Judge Parker’s attempt to save time and money ended up doing neither, with the ultimate result being a dangerous person being released back to the streets of Missoula.
None of this answers the question posed by the title of the post, so if I get more insight before the weekend I’ll make sure to include it in this week’s podcast review of local headlines.
Thanks for reading!