Assault case delays youth science center

Finman charged with starting to dismantle home with tenants still inside

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A case involving an applicant of a planned youth science center near Rathdrum and a major contributor to student robotics programs has put the center on hold.

Paul Fagerlie Finman, 55, Rathdrum, is charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He allegedly started to dismantle his rental home in Bonner County with a tractor while three tenants were inside. A preliminary hearing started in Sandpoint on Wednesday and the proceeding will continue March 7.

Finman, who spent two days in jail last October before posting a $20,000 bond through a bail bondsman, said he was unaware there were people inside the home about 20 miles north of the science center site. He said he was led to believe they'd be out of the home by Sept. 30 after a landlord/tenant dispute.

The case, Finman said, has put his and wife Lorna Finman's request for a conditional-use permit for the 20,000-square foot science center on hold.

A groundbreaking ceremony featuring Gov. Butch Otter, robotics students and local officials was held at the site last year, but neighbor opposition has slowed the permit. A hearing examiner recommended approval, but the recommendation has been protested.

A hearing before the Kootenai County commissioners last month was canceled by the Finmans due to personal reasons.

"Lorna decided to cancel the second hearing after (the center's neighbors) inserted into the record about me being arrested for felony aggravated assault," Finman said.

Lorna added: "They want to present us in a bad light at the permit hearing."

Paul said the hearing has been postponed indefinitely due to the case with his former tenants.

The Finmans founded the nonprofit North Idaho Discovery Association that will fund the $2.5 million Science, Technology and Research (STAR) Center along with science camp fees and sponsors. It earlier was expected to open this fall. The couple also own LCF Enterprises in Post Falls, which designs and manufactures amplifiers for commercial and military applications.

NIDA has spent more than $500,000 on youth robotics sponsorships and grants in the past several years.

Paul Finman said the situation is "disheartening and discouraging."

"Lorna is still positive and upbeat, but I feel we've been struck after trying to do something good for the community," he said. "But this is the reality. Some people want fields and cow pies and others want a beautiful campus that will help kids. It's a political battle."

Finman, who is free on his own recognizance while the case is pending, said he's confident the facts will be shown in the case and that he'll be exonerated.

Although the state and the defense have yet to offer arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Shane Greenbank appears to be trying to make the case Finman knew or should have known a woman and her two children were in the home when he started dismantling it with a John Deere tractor fitted with forklift tongs. Defense attorney Jeremy Featherston appeared to try to demonstrate that his client was unaware the dwelling was occupied.

The bizarre incident occurred on Oct. 8, 2010, on Bandy Road. A teenage boy and girl and their mother escaped into the woods and were not injured.

The mother, Susan Campbell, testified that a rock was tossed through a sliding glass door and Finman was seen dismantling a deck with the tractor. Then the forklift tongs started piercing walls, prompting them the flee.

"I just really had to keep myself from panicking," Campbell testified.

Campbell said she did not make contact with Finman on the advice of her husband because of an ongoing landlord/tenant dispute, the details of which were not explained on Wednesday.

Finman told a deputy at the scene that he made a "mistake" and was grateful there were no injuries. Finman allegedly told the deputy that he was dismantling the home so it could not be utilized by squatters and stopped the demolition once he noticed laundry drying on a clothesline.

A notice of eviction referenced during the hearing indicated the Campbells had until Oct. 31 to vacate the premises. Campbell's husband, however, had written a letter advising Finman they would be out of the home by Sept. 30, about a week before the incident occurred.

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