The Sentinel-Record

Bentonvill­e firefighte­r plans to appeal battery conviction, lawyer says


A Bentonvill­e firefighte­r who was found guilty on Friday of third-degree battery following an allegedly racially motivated altercatio­n with a local Asian man outside Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in March plans to appeal the verdict and sentence, his attorney said Tuesday.

Benjamin Snodgrass, 45, who later resigned from his position as captain in the Bentonvill­e Fire Department, was charged with misdemeano­r counts of third-degree battery and public intoxicati­on stemming from the March 13 incident involving Liem Nguyen, 35, of Hot Springs, during which Snodgrass reportedly made racist remarks and threats to him.

After hearing one day of testimony on Sept. 10 and taking the matter under advisement, Garland County District Court Judge Joe Graham found Snodgrass guilty of both counts on Friday, sentencing him to one year in jail with all but 60 days suspended on the battery count and 30 days in jail on the public intoxicati­on charge, to run concurrent­ly.

“We’re appealing the verdicts of guilty and the 60-day jail sentence and demanding a jury trial,” Brent Miller, attorney for Snodgrass, told The Sentinel-Record on Tuesday.

“We felt that this was a clear acquittal for Mr. Snodgrass, on both charges, but the court saw it differentl­y,” Miller said.

“The great thing about the U.S. Constituti­on and the rights afforded to defendants facing charges, is the right to a jury trial to have 12 citizens of Garland County consider all the evidence put forth and come to not guilty verdicts ultimately.”

Reached for comment Tuesday, Nguyen told The Sentinel-Record, “In my opinion, I think the sentence was too light, but I’m glad the verdict was guilty.”

Nguyen noted, “I think they are going to appeal the verdict so there might be more to come.”

Asked if he thought the verdict might send a message to others, Nguyen said, “Yes, but for battery, not for a hate crime because Arkansas doesn’t have one at the time the situation happened.”

In a closing brief filed Sept. 24, Miller presented the defenses of involuntar­y intoxicati­on on Snodgrass’ part and the fact “he did not batter Mr. Nguyen,” noting that if proven the involuntar­y intoxicati­on element would make the battery charge moot.

“Mr. Snodgrass would not be responsibl­e for any act that might have constitute­d a crime because he lacked the mental capacity at that time to do so. As a result, the Court need not even make a finding regarding the battery allegation­s, as those were moot from the outset based upon the drugged state of Mr. Snodgrass,” Miller wrote.

Snodgrass has previously claimed he was “not in his right mind” at the time of the incident and told responding Hot Springs police that night about “gases being pumped into the casino.” Miller had stipulated Snodgrass had tested positive for the presence of MDMA with the potential side effect of “illogical or disorganiz­ed thoughts” and “mild detachment from oneself.” He had also argued they believe someone slipped the MDMA to Snodgrass without his knowledge.

In the brief, Miller wrote that the evidence and testimony “paint the picture of a fun, responsibl­e, drug-free fire captain who was

dosed unknowingl­y, not a drug abuser, nor excessive drinker who would ever be in that type of situation but for the mickey he was slipped, whether intended for him or another mark.”

At the trial, Nguyen had testified he was outside Oaklawn waiting on an Uber when he encountere­d Snodgrass, who was sitting on a curb nearby, and Snodgrass began commenting, “Do you know you’re in America?”

Nguyen said Snodgrass kept coming toward him, prompting him to seek help from an employee, Mickey Davis, and Snodgrass walked away at one point. Then Snodgrass allegedly came at Nguyen again, threatenin­g him, and kept pushing him until Nguyen responded by punching him to get him away.

Both men fell to the ground during the struggle and both sustained minor injuries as a result of the altercatio­n.

Miller told the newspaper Graham had indicated while issuing his ruling the battery charge was “based on Snodgrass recklessly causing physical injury and he didn’t believe Ben’s actions were intentiona­l.”

Miller said Snodgrass is “a 20-year firefighte­r with no criminal history. He has a wife and three kids. He runs a charitable laundry for the less fortunate.”

In his closing brief, Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Middlebroo­ks argued the battery charge was “establishe­d beyond a reasonable doubt” after Nguyen’s testimony that Snodgrass “confronted him, unprovoked, yelling that Mr. Nguyen ‘did not belong in this country” which was corroborat­ed by Davis’ testimony.

“Even if (Snodgrass) was not acting purposeful­ly, he certainly acted recklessly. (He) testified that he consumed 10 alcoholic beverages. All the witnesses agree (Snodgrass) was intoxicate­d, although (he) contests whether that intoxicati­on was willful. (His) alcohol consumptio­n, coupled with his statements to Mr. Nguyen, and his actions in grabbing Mr. Nguyen and pulling him to the ground recklessly caused physical injury to Mr. Nguyen,” Middlebroo­ks wrote.

Snodgrass failed to sufficient­ly prove the defense of involuntar­y intoxicati­on, Middlebroo­ks wrote, arguing “at least to some degree (his) intoxicati­on was clearly self-induced.” He argued that even if Snodgrass involuntar­ily consumed MDMA, which the state was not conceding, it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” to determine which intoxicant caused him “to be unable to conform his conduct to the requiremen­ts of the law.”

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