Mancos resident Julie Ott was sentenced Thursday to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $54,560 in restitution to the Dove Creek Fire Protection District after a jury found her guilty of criminal mischief causing damage between $20,000 and $100,000 to fire district property.
The jury in late February concluded that in May 2017 Ott unlawfully and knowingly damaged fire district property by excavating beyond her property line at the La Watha LLC bakery property at 101 U.S. Highway 491 in Dove Creek, adjacent to the Dove Creek Volunteer Fire Department building.
After rendering Ott’s sentence, 22nd Judicial District Judge Todd Plewe told Ott and fire district board president Dan Johnson that he hopes there are no further conflicts between the neighbors, noting that there have not been any other criminal acts.
“There’s a whole lot of anger here, but this is the only case,” Plewe said. “Everybody should be commended for that.”
Before Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Ott, who represented herself in the criminal case with help from advisory counsel Cameron Secrist, filed a 39-page motion for acquittal, imploring Plewe to throw out the jury’s guilty verdict.
Ott’s motion includes a transcript of trial proceedings and argues that the prosecution was unable to prove that Ott committed the crime of criminal mischief.
Plewe said the jury agreed unanimously that she is guilty and it would be improper for him, as a judge, to insert his belief about the verdict or modify or disregard the jury’s verdict.
“You’re essentially relitigating the case,” Plewe said just before he denied the motion to acquit.
In Ott’s oral statements before sentencing, she said she is confused and asked Plewe why restitution is so high for “something that didn’t exist.” She asked where her money would be going.
“Ma’am, is there a reason that you’re yelling at me?” Plewe asked Ott.
She said she was told she speaks softly, so she was speaking louder than normal. She then asked Plewe what restitution means, to which Plewe replied that statements before sentencing are not a dialogue. The judge is there to listen and render a sentence.
“I’m very confused standing here,” Ott concluded.
Plewe then took a brief recess to type up sentencing documents. Upon his return to the courtroom, he said it is “very obvious” that Ott is indignant and that she still believes she did not cross the property line. Two surveyors agreed that she was over the line, he added.
“You are mistaken in your belief, and obviously 12 jurors agreed,” Plewe said.
He implored Ott to “move on” and said he doesn’t want any more problems. To that end, he ordered Ott to engage in restorative justice mediation with Fire district, if the fire district board chooses to. He said Fire district is the victim and not a party in the case, and he can’t order the district to do anything.
Plewe said the parties can come to whatever resolution they want. After mediation is complete, Plewe said Ott can petition the court for unsupervised probation. He said he hopes the parties come to an agreement over the boundary line and where a wall could be built.
During the February trial, the defendant and her witnesses expressed disdain with a poster on a wall inside the Fire district building – visible through a window from the La Watha property – with the words, “Hump Day,” and a collage of 36 images of womens’ buttocks.
In Ott’s motion for acquittal, she refers to the poster as “pornography hanging in the fire department.” In a Dec. 7 email Ott sent to prosecutors, which Ott forwarded to The Journal, she states, “I feel I am being criminalized because I asked for the Fire district to remove sexually explicit posters from their firehouse.”
In court, Plewe said the poster bothers him as well and that it shouldn’t be in a public building, but that was no reason for Ott to do what she did. Johnson said the poster was removed some time ago.
“There won’t be anything like that ever again,” Johnson said.
Before the trial, the conflict between the La Watha LLC bakery and Fire district was aired out in the public for Dove Creek residents and passersby on U.S. Highway 491.
Ott placed several large billboard-sized posters on the bakery property that included photos of a firefighter standing in front of the “Hump Day” poster, personal attacks on firefighters, statements about fighting oppression and a quote from the Declaration of Independence.