Government gadfly facing new restraining order in Nevada County, criminal charges in Nevada City | TheUnion.com
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Government gadfly facing new restraining order in Nevada County, criminal charges in Nevada City

Matthew Coulter approaches the Grass Valley City Council and staff at the dais during the public comment period of a scheduled council meeting in January 2017, where he gave his perspective on how he believed the Little Wolf Creek sinkhole formed.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

Matthew Coulter is an ever-present gadfly at government meetings across the county, and a familiar presence on various Nevada County Facebook groups, where he keeps locals updated on police scanner happenings.

But Coulter went silent recently after Nevada County served him with a temporary restraining order, following in the footsteps of the city of Grass Valley in 2018. He was set to appear in court twice this coming Monday, for a hearing on a more permanent restraining order for Nevada County and for arraignment on a misdemeanor charge for violating the Grass Valley order.

Coulter’s legal woes escalated Thursday when he was arrested by Nevada City police officers following a report he was harassing city workers.

“At about 1 p.m. (Thursday), we were notified of a subject threatening construction workers by the Bonanza Market parking lot,” said Sgt. Luke Holdcroft.

Officers responded and contacted Coulter, Holdcroft said, adding that Coulter had been causing an issue with the same contractors earlier that day and the week before.

“We went to place him under arrest and he became combative,” Holdcroft said. “He kicked an officer several times.”

According to Holdcroft, at some point Coulter threw himself to the ground before officers handcuffed him. Coulter, however, had a conflicting account of his arrest, saying officers swept his feet out from under him.

“I got banged up,” he said Friday.

Coulter was booked into the Nevada County Jail on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, battery on a peace officer and using offensive words in a public place. He was released on $7.500 bond, jail records state.

Reached at home after being released from jail Friday afternoon, Coulter said he plans to ask for a continuance of Monday’s hearing, in part because he says he was injured by the officers. Coulter said he also wants more time to collect documents and video evidence that he asserts he’s been denied.

Grass Valley

Coulter said the restraining orders and arrests stem from attempts to silence him.

“They’ve been trying to shut me up for years,” he said.

His most recent run-ins with law enforcement began in July 2018, when he was arrested by Grass Valley police officers after a confrontation with tree trimmers, said Capt. Steve Johnson. He was charged with disturbing the peace by loud noise and offensive language, and with trespassing. That case was dismissed in May 2019, court records state.

Later that month, Grass Valley filed a petition for a restraining order. City staff “are not just concerned about harassment that distracts them for their work,” wrote City Manager Tim Kiser in a declaration. “They say they are worried Mr. Coulter’s behavior may escalate to the point that it threatens their safety.”

Community Development Director Tom Last described a “serious encounter” on July 17, 2018, in which he stated that Coulter acted aggressively and was subsequently arrested. No record of an arrest that day was found, however.

Grass Valley City Attorney Michael Colantuono requested a five-year restraining order. But after a hearing in Nevada County Superior Court, Judge Thomas Anderson extended the temporary restraining order for two years, to remain in effect until September 2020.

In September 2018, Coulter was arrested for violating the restraining order and charged with disturbing the peace. According to Johnson, that incident involved Coulter harassing and yelling at Grass Valley city staff. That case also was dismissed, court records state.

A year later, Coulter was arrested on the grounds of Grass Valley Charter School and charged with disturbing the peace with offensive language. In that case, he pleaded guilty in return for 15 hours of community service, court records state.

Johnson said Coulter has violated the Grass Valley restraining order on several other occasions by berating and cursing city employees and elected officials. A misdemeanor charge of disobeying a court order has been filed for a February incident.

Nevada County

Nevada County filed its petition for a restraining order on Feb. 26.

The petition alleges “escalating confrontational conduct” that now includes “extreme hostility and physically threatening behavior.”

According to the petition, Coulter had a threatening interaction with County Clerk Julie Patterson-Hunter on Feb. 11, which left her shaking from emotional distress and anxiety. He then confronted Supervisor Ed Scofield on Feb. 19, blocking the doorway and “projecting his chest,” and then following Scofield in an aggressive manner.

According to Coulter, it was Scofield who behaved aggressively during the encounter, following him and berating him.

Nevada County Counsel Kit Elliott said the decision came after a process that included investigating the complaints about Coulter.

“We don’t jump to conclusions,” she said. “We review the evidence.”

Elliott said she has a duty to protect her employees against public harassment, and noted she has to balance between First Amendment rights and staff safety.

“You can’t wait for somebody to be injured to take action,” she said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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