Missoula County prosecutors allege racism is behind a local woman's alleged attack on a neighbor, using racial slurs against him.
Susan Ann Lafriniere allegedly called her black neighbor a racial slur repeatedly and on several occasions beginning in September 2013, and at one point allegedly assaulted him during a racially fueled argument.
She pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Missoula County Justice Court and will remain free pending trial, as long as she abides with the conditions of her release.
She is not to have contact with the victim and his family, who live in the same neighborhood west of Reserve Street.
Lafriniere didn't respond to the Missoulian's request for comment Thursday. The victim and his wife, who are listed in the charging documents by name, said they did not want to comment about the case at this time.
Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst said it's not often that her office comes across a hate crime, but that's not because it doesn't happen in Missoula. It's just more difficult to identify the motivation of some perpetrators.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, the victim was outside his house washing his car in September 2013 when he saw Lafriniere yelling at a woman and her daughter walking along the street.
She allegedly told the mother and daughter they didn't belong in the neighborhood and to stay off private property.
The victim reportedly stood up for the mother and child, saying the street wasn't private property and they could walk there if they liked.
"Susan turned her attention to (the victim) and ran up to him and started waving her finger in his face and saying, 'mind your own business, (expletive); you don't belong here either,' " the affidavit stated.
The victim apparently told Lafriniere he didn't appreciate the racial slur and told her to stop.
The woman became "enraged," the affidavit stated, and allegedly continued to call the man the derogatory term over and over, attracting the attention of other neighbors.
One of the neighbors, Betty Chrestenson, was outside on her porch and shouted at Lafriniere to stop, but she allegedly continued to yell the word until the victim walked away.
On at least four other occasions, Lafriniere evidently made a rude gesture indicative of her hatred of the victim while he passed her in his vehicle.
Last June, the victim arrived at another neighbor's house to work on the yard. While he was in the home discussing landscaping plans with their mutual neighbor, Lafriniere came into the home.
When she saw the victim, Lafriniere immediately "ran over to him and bumped her chest into him, yelling at him to get out of the house because he was 'defiling it with his presence.' "
The victim asked Lafriniere why she kept bothering him and told her to leave him alone, but the defendant allegedly continued to yell at the victim, again using racial slurs to illustrate her distaste for the man.
The victim finished his work and then contacted police after discussing the situation's escalation with his wife.
When Detective Dean Chrestenson interviewed Lafriniere, she immediately called the victim "that pig," and began explaining that she could say whatever she wanted because it's a "free country."
The detective eventually had to leave because the woman continued to yell at him and talk over him while he explained the case to her. She allegedly continued to yell at him while he drove away.
Lafriniere faces a misdemeanor assault charge that is subject to an enhancement under hate crime statute 45-5-222, punishable by not less than two years or more than 10 years in the Montana State Prison. Pabst said that statute was established in 1989.
"I think the Legislature in its collaborative wisdom decided that crimes that were committed because of the hate of a protected class should be subject to an increased penalty," she said. "As you can see you, these alleged crimes profoundly affected the victim and his family. And it's that harm that the Legislature is attempting to prevent (in this statute.)"