UPDATE: The jury found Richard Sovenski not guilty of felony malicious harassment, and guilty of misdemeanor battery.
By RALPH BARTHOLDT
COEUR d’ALENE — Richard Sovenski told the court Wednesday he is not a racist, although the language he used during an altercation last summer was racist, and wrong. The Hayden 52-year-old took the stand as a witness on the second day of his own malicious harassment trial.
After four hours of testimony Wednesday, the jury deliberated but did not reach a verdict. Deliberations begin again today.
Sovenski, who is on trial for a hate-related felony, said his behavior last summer outside a north Coeur d’Alene McDonald’s restaurant was directed at a 22-year-old white man who mouthed off to Sovenski after being among a group who Sovenski claims acted rudely toward his wife.
“I wasn’t acting out of race,” Sovenski testified in Coeur d’Alene’s First District Court. “It had nothing to do with race.”
Sovenski, who has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor battery and felony malicious harassment stemming from the July 12 altercation in which he is accused of yelling racial invectives at a church youth group, volunteered to take the stand in his defense.
Wearing a blue button up shirt and slacks, the Hayden HVAC foreman said the group of teens and their youth leaders were ill-mannered in the restaurant and almost bumped his wife several times. She was in pain and her arm was in a sling as she attempted to get a drink from a soda bar.
“I told them they were disrespectful and rude,” he said. “He had something to say.”
After putting in a 13-hour day, the HVAC foreman stopped for beers — not something he usually did — but he was dealing with the stress of contract work that was behind schedule, he told the court. In addition, his wife was recovering from her ninth shoulder surgery. He was short on money, time and patience when he and his family, including his son who worked for him, headed to McDonald’s for a late bite to eat — his first meal of the day. He was met with unruly teenagers in the restaurant, who were dancing, singing and jumping around, disregarding others in the restaurant, he said.
When one of the youth leaders, a 22-year-old man popped off, Sovenski followed him outside into the parking lot. Another youth leader, Quezacoatl “Jose” Ceniceros, confronted him, and he pushed the man in the chest, and out of the way. That is when the fracas began, with Sovenski yelling at the teenagers and their group leaders, and the group yelling back at him, he said.
Witnesses for Sovenski agreed that the man they knew was not a racist and not motivated by racial hatred.
Shaelein Carkuff-Marmon, who is Hispanic and has known Sovenski since childhood, adamantly denied the accusations.
“He’s never treated me any differently because of the color of my skin,” Carkuff-Marmon said.
Darrel Luthas, a Chinese-American who knew Sovenski because he worked with his wife, called the slurs Sovenski used “ugly,” but they were not racially motivated, he said.
“I know racism,” he said.
Sovenski’s actions that night were in retaliation for what was done, Luthas said. It was not motivated by skin color or heritage.
In his closing arguments, defense attorney Michael Palmer called prosecutors’ use of the malicious harassment law misguided.
“The statute is so people don’t burn crosses in someone’s yard,” Palmer said. “Because you don’t want ‘those’ people in your neighborhood.”
The law was incepted in response to the Aryans in Idaho, and in his 52 years, his client has never been associated with a hate group, nor has anyone ever accused him of a hateful act.
“This is as far from that as you can get,” Palmer said.