Judge Ronnie McDaniel sent a clear message to teenagers last week when he sentenced a 19-year-old male to six days in jail for harassing an elderly customer at McDonald's. In addition to jail time, the defendant also was ordered to pay a $1,446 fine, perform community service and attend anger management classes.
Tim Grier, prosecutor for the Town of Payson, let it be known during a closing statement Oct. 30 before Judge Ronnie McDaniel that his office was not going to tolerate abuse of Payson's senior citizens.
"This case involves one of our most cherished principles in America, that is, respect for our elders," Grier said.
Grier was referring to an incident that occurred the evening of Aug. 7, 2001 at McDonald's which led to assault, harassments and disorderly conduct charges being filed against Benjamin West, 19, of Payson.
The victim in the case, Frank Howell, 71, of Payson, told authorities he had entered the McDonald's restaurant to get a sandwich when his nightmare began.
Howell said as he approached the counter, a young man who was standing off to the side stepped in front of him.
"I thought, OK he's ahead of me," Howell said. "I tried to move to a different register and he shoved me away with his hip."
Howell said he tried a third location and the young man grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him away.
"He then blew a wrapper from a straw in my face and then stuck the straw in my ear and blew into it," Howell said. "The whole time, his friends were screaming and hollering, telling him what to do next."
Howell left the restaurant and reported the incident to the police the following morning.
The Payson Police Department began an investigation, and, following interviews with McDonald's employees and other witnesses, they were led to West.
West was originally charged with harassment, however, the Town Attorney's office reviewed the case and added disorderly conduct and assault charges.
West entered into a plea agreement, pleading guilty on all charges Oct. 30 before Judge McDaniel and was sentenced to six days in the county jail, 120 hours of community service, anger management classes and ordered to pay $1,446 in fines.
"Judge McDaniel made it clear that while he is the judge, this type of behavior is not going to happen," Grier said. "I think he could have just as easily sentenced West to 60 days in jail. He is not going to allow our retired people to be harassed."
Grier said he hopes the sentencing will accomplish something and deter further behavior of this sort.
"There are some great young people in this community and I think most of them would be offended by this," Grier said. "I hope 120 hours of community service is something that turns this young man around."
Howell said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.
"The important thing was not revenge, but catching this guy before he does great harm," Howell said.
Howell said he felt "very alone" when the incident occurred because no one in the restaurant stepped forward to help, but he has been reassured that the justice process in Payson works. They really care about what goes on," Howell said of Grier and McDaniel.
In a telephone interview with the Roundup, West said that the only reason he pleaded guilty was because he was afraid of the maximum punishment.
"People wouldn't believe me. I did not want to spend six months in jail," West said.
West told the Roundup that Howell's version of what happened changed from what was in the police report and what he told the judge.
"I never touched him," West said. "I made faces at him and blew air from a straw in his direction. A lot of things (Howell) said is not true. I was originally charged with harrassment. In my opinion, (Howell) wanted vengeance. The story he told the judge is completely different."
West said he had witnesses to what had occurred, but he did not have them step forward to testify. Additionally he said he did not read what the independent witnesses had to say adding that "it was probably lies."