Hotel owner 'pleads guilty to nothing'

<I>Elane Dickenson/Chieftain</I><BR>Shilo Inn chain owner Mark Hemstreet looks over a legal paper in the office of Enterprise attorney Rahn Hostetter on Tuesday morning.

After almost two years, the misdemeanor game cases against Shilo Inn chain owner Mark Hemstreet and his wife, Shannon, were set to finally go to trial on Monday.

Instead, last week, the case against Shannon Hemstreet was totally dismissed and all but one charge against Mark Hemstreet dismissed "in the interest and furtherance of justice" according to a diversion agreement worked out between the defense attorney Rahn Hostetter and Wallowa County District Attorney Dan Ousley.

"Mark Hemstreet pleaded guilty to nothing," Hostetter said, adding that his clients feel vindicated by the outcome of the case. "The main point is that all the game charges have been dropped."

The only charge left in a case that originally included 11 charges is one count of false application for an Oregon hunting license. That charge will be dismissed in six months if Hemstreet remains law abiding and pays $3,000 to the State of Oregon, under terms of the agreement.

The diversion also states that "The State of Oregon agrees that Mark Hemstreet continues to assert that he is a resident of Oregon and intends to remain a resident of Oregon; and Mark S. Hemstreet and ODFW will enter into communications and discussions concerning the definition of 'resident' for purposes of applying for Oregon hunting licenses and tags in order to avoid this issue from arising in 2007 and future years."

Hemstreet told the Chieftain this week that he is and always has been "a proud Oregonian" and feels the case against him and his wife was pursued for political motives by the Oregon State Police, namely his support for a public employees pension reform measure in 1994.

Ousley said that the diversion agreement was worked out "after a lot of discussion between the defense and prosecution" and satisfied both parties. "The entire agreement was based on the entire situation," he said, declining to comment about the defense's contention that the state lacked enough evidence to prosecute the case.

"That's their spin on it," said Ousley, adding that he had been prepared to go to trial.

The charges against Shannon Hemstreet were dismissed in the wake of an opinion by Wallowa and Union County Judge Russ West last week that she was denied a fair speedy trial. Because of a slightly different set of circumstances, however, the judge did not include Mark Hemstreet in the speedy trial ruling.

In recent hearings, the judge ruled against another motion to dismiss, this one because of "bad faith prosecution," filed by the defense attorneys Hostetter and Dale Moon of Baker City.

The two Hemstreets were among seven defendants cited in Jan. 20, 2005, by the Oregon State Police following a two month-investigation centering around the Shilo Ranch, about 20 miles from Wallowa on Powwatka Ridge, which is owned by Mark Hemstreet.

Their names were released in January, 2005, by the OSP in connection with a total of 30 citations that stemmed out of a game stop in October of 2004that included their son, Brian Hemstreet and several companions who were staying at the Shilo Ranch. His parents were not present in the county at the time.

Attorneys for Mark and Shannon Hemstreet contended from the beginning that they should not be considered part of the case. "It was apparent that the citations against defendants Hemstreet were issued in OSP's rush to publicity with no evidentiary basis for the allegation," the defense said in the "bad faith" motion.

Mark Hemstreet was originally charged with 11 counts, ranging from unlawful taking of a bull elk to loaning and borrowing a big game tag, and including five counts of false application for a resident license and tag in five different years. Shannon Hemstreet was charged with five counts of false application for a resident license/tag, unlawful taking of a bull elk, loaning a bull elk tag and loaning a bear tag.

Three of the false applications charges against both Mark and Shannon Hemstreet were later ruled by Judge West to be beyond the statute of limitations.

Brian Hemstreet later pleaded guilty to borrowing a bear tag from Shannon Hemstreet, saying it was without her consent or knowledge; he received a suspended jail sentence, was ordered to do community service and fined over $2,170. Another defendant, David Forni of Tigard, pleaded guilty to loaning an elk tag and was fined $816.

Charges are still pending against the Hemstreets' daughter, Staci McDonald of Portland, who was cited on a charge of loaning a big game tag; and Gregg Clapper of Portland, who was cited on several game misdemeanors, including exceeding bag limit of elk. Clapper is scheduled to go on trial in February.

As regards the "communications" clause about the definition of "resident" in the diversion agreement, Hostetter said that when the time comes he intends to write a letter to the Oregon Department stating that Hemstreet is an Oregon resident and quote a court case he said establishes residency based on "intention" being the determining factor to establish residency. If the matter is not settled any other way, Hostetter said he would file a motion for declatory judgment from the court to settle the residency question once and for all.

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