Featured prominently in the case of former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, and the young woman he allegedly raped has been the disparity in how they’ve been treated.
He’s been a study in privilege.
She’s been a target of political scorn.
All of which has been thrown into sharp relief by the Ada County criminal justice system.
Almost three weeks ago, prosecutors told the former lawmaker that he was being charged with rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object — two offenses carrying a lifetime prison sentence: Would he mind coming down to Boise for the formality of making an initial court appearance and the posting of a bond? After that, he would be sent on his way.
Fifteen days after the warrant was issued, von Ehlinger finally surfaced. He was booked into the Clayton County, Ga., jail as a fugitive from justice.
Clayton County is home to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
That should be the end of the kid gloves treatment. But don’t hold your breath.
Sure, the freshman lawmaker got booted out of the Legislature. The then-38-year-old lawmaker’s admissions of consensual sex with a legislative intern half his age in his Boise apartment were sufficient for the House Ethics Committee to find von Ehlinger guilty of “conduct unbecoming.” Before the full House could act on its recommended suspension of the Lewiston lawmaker, von Ehlinger quit.
Then and there, his sacrifice ended. He felt free to pursue his interests. Von Ehlinger even found time to write a letter to this page denigrating President Joe Biden’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, his acolytes dished out a steady stream of abuse toward the 19-year-old legislative intern. Von Ehlinger’s attorney released her name in a public rebuttal to the charge. Armed with that information, the right-wing Redoubt News identified her and published her picture. Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, went out of her way to amplify it on Facebook and her own legislative newsletter. She’s now facing a “conduct unbecoming” sanction of her own.
It wasn’t enough that the intern had to endure cross-examination from von Ehlinger’s lawyer at the ethics hearing. On her way out the door, the young woman was harassed by von Ehlinger’s supporters and a television reporter.
Since then, she’s had to look over her shoulder. She’s suffered emotional distress and physical ailments. The episode interrupted her college career and work.
In the midst of that, her alleged assailant was at large for two weeks. Moreover, the Ada County prosecutor took no step to alert her that von Ehlinger was in custody on Saturday night. Nor Sunday. Not until Monday morning — 36 hours later — did she learn about it, just like everyone else.
Would this have been handled differently if the suspect wasn’t a prominent politician, if he wasn’t a white male approaching middle age, if he was not a Republican and a veteran, if he didn’t have access to legal representation to negotiate on his behalf?
Does it matter that his alleged victim is a teenager, a woman and a person without means or influence?
What do you think?
Under what circumstances would law enforcement have gone to von Ehlinger’s home, knocked on the door, served the arrest warrant, placed him in handcuffs, put him in a squad car and taken him to the county jail — where he would have remained without bond until he faced a judge?
How else is it that the most prominent rape suspect in the entire state of Idaho is allowed to roam free for 15 days?
Boise police spent four months investigating this case. The Ada County prosecutor reviewed it for another two months. That’s plenty of time to prepare a backup plan. How is it that he slipped away? Did nobody arrange with local or state law enforcement to maintain a watch on von Ehlinger’s whereabouts as the case reached a new milestone?
What’s disturbing here is the impression that Ada County’s criminal justice system is not taking this matter as seriously as it should.
If that’s not so, somebody better start explaining. Maintaining this cloak of silence is not helping. — M.T.