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Deferred sentence for Yaak man who assaulted woman

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | March 26, 2024 7:00 AM

A Yaak man who pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife after an argument over the death of a dog last year was finally sentenced.

Benjamin Michael Manheim, 64, was first charged with one felony count of strangulation of a partner or family member following an incident on May 23, 2023, at a River View Drive residence. 

On Nov. 13, Manheim entered his plea to an amended charge of criminal endangerment. Lincoln County District Judge Matt Cuffe set a sentencing date of Jan. 8. But it was rescheduled because a pre-sentence investigation hadn't been completed after Manheim didn't provide required information to the probation and parole officer on Jan. 2.

Cuffe ordered Manheim to speak with the probation and parole officer by the end of the day on Jan. 9. Manheim's next sentencing hearing was set for Feb. 12, but he didn't show. His attorney, Ben Kolter, attempted to call Manheim during a recess, but didn't get ahold of the defendant. Kolter and county Attorney Marcia Boris generally agreed that Manheim had good intentions to attend the hearing, but, "he went from good contact to no contact."

Cuffe granted a two-week continuance, but following a second consecutive no-show, issued a $15,000 arrest warrant on Feb. 26.

After Manheim was picked up, he appeared in court on March 11 and Cuffe gave him a 3-year deferred sentence. He received credit for serving 12 days in the county jail. Kolter asked that the public defender fee of $800 be waived. There was no disagreement from Boris and Cuffe waived it.

Cuffe said statements by Manheim’s family members indicated concerns and worry that the defendant didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.

Cuffe said he agreed, but a probation and parole officer said Manheim’s risk of offending was low.

According to charging documents, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Huff, he and fellow deputy James Derryberry were responding to a reported disturbance when they learned Manheim and the alleged victim had been separated by family members and Manheim was at the food bank on River View Drive.

When Huff spoke to Manheim, the defendant allegedly said he and the woman had been fighting about their dogs. The fight then turned physical and Manheim alluded to the woman hitting him, but refused to actually say that she did, Huff reported. 

The deputy also reported that Manheim said he grabbed the woman by the throat and mimed what he did, giving the officer the impression that Manheim gripped tightly and applied pressure.

Manheim also said several times that he needed mental health help and wanted to go to Pathways, according to the court document.

Huff and Derryberry then spoke to another woman outside of the pantry. She said the woman and Manheim had a young dog die during the winter. Manheim allegedly told the woman he thawed the ground and buried the dog. 

The second woman said Manheim took the dog to a shipping container and placed it on a love seat. The woman said the dead dog was posed on a love seat, propped with pillows, eviscerated and its entrails spread on the furniture and walls of the container. The second woman said it had been left in that state until the morning of May 23 when Manheim allegedly showed it to both women.

The second woman said she and another person removed the dog and it had been buried.

Huff and Derryberry left the food pantry with the second woman who said she wanted to be there because the alleged victim was very afraid of law enforcement and the house was surrounded by many aggressive dogs.

The second woman got the victim to speak with the officers. The woman said Manheim allegedly punched her in the chin before grabbing her by the throat. She said during the struggle Manheim allegedly said he was trying to pop her head off. The alleged victim said a family member arrived and separated the couple. The woman said she was afraid of Manheim and they had a history of physical violence when fighting.

According to the charging document, Huff photographed the woman and did not see any redness or bruising on her throat or on her chin where she said she was struck. Huff asked the woman if she needed medical assistance, but she declined.

Huff then spoke to Manheim, who said an ambulance had arrived. Crew members said they didn’t have any immediate medical concerns after checking Manheim.

Huff reported that based on the statements made by the alleged victim and Manheim, he concluded Manheim had been the predominant aggressor.