A Hamilton man pleaded guilty on Thursday in United States District Court in Missoula to placing a nail-spiked board on a forest trail to deter bicyclists.
Richard Joseph Stratton, 54, appeared before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto with his public defender John Rhodes to change his plea from not guilty to guilty on the charge of placing a Hazardous and Injurious Device on Federal Land, a Class A Misdemeanor.
Court documents stated that the plank was found on Nov. 4, 2019 by a man who stepped on it while walking with his two children along the Coyote Coulee Trail in the Bitterroot National Forest, 6 miles southwest of Hamilton. The plank was reportedly hidden under debris, according to court documents. Witnesses described the piece of wood with 10 nails stuck through it as, “wicked,” and that it was a dangerous weapon.
Coyote Coulee is listed on the National Forest website as a popular trailhead for hiking, horseback and biking.
After being shown a picture of the nailed plank, Stratton reportedly confirmed it was the same one he placed on the trail to, “keep bikes out of the area.”
By pleading guilty, DeSoto explained that Stratton waived the right to appeal any aspect of his sentencing, which will take place at 10 a.m., March 3, 2021.
Stratton admitted during the hearing that he acted with reckless disregard that another person could get hurt and, “manifested extreme indifference to such risk,” and placed a hazardous device on federal land.
“What I did was wrong,” Stratton said in court, adding that, “in all fairness,” he went to retrieve the plank the next day, but did not elaborate further.
“That wasn’t my intentions to hurt anybody,” he said, noting that he knew it was a possibility.
Stratton previously worked at GlaxoSmithKline's facility in Hamilton where he said he performed multiple tasks at the facility and worked at the, “guard shack” on occasion before he was laid off weeks ago.
Assistant U.S. District Attorney Ryan Weldon said that prosecutors would recommend probation in the case, with a decreased offense level because Stratton accepted responsibility.
DeSoto explained that the court still had to abide by the sentencing statute and guidelines.
“Criminal history might affect that,” she said.
Records show that Stratton was previously convicted in 1991 with aggravated sexual assault in New Jersey.
Rhodes said that he estimated the applicable sentencing guideline for Stratton would be zero to six months for prison time although prosecutors said they would seek a probationary term.
DeSoto said that a pre-sentencing report would be conducted while Stratton is on supervised release conditions with more expansive terms.
If this were to happen again, “It would rise to a federal felony,” she added, saying that the maximum penalty would be one year imprisonment, a $100,000 fine, up to one year supervised release and a $25 special assessment.