HELENA — The manager of a Helena restaurant says they have received a threatening letter, in response to a recent legal case where a man pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after having been accused of threatening restaurant employees.
John Schneider, manager of Hokkaido Ramen and Sushi Bar, said the letter arrived in the mail Monday and appeared to come from the Missoula area.
It came just over a week after a court hearing where a district judge accepted a plea deal for Rodney Smith.
The letter, identified as being from "2nd Amendment Club Members,” called Smith “our friend and comrade,” and said Schneider and his wife Jessie – also a Hokkaido employee – hadn’t been able to get him into serious trouble “no matter how hard you tried.”
“Some night, we’ll come into your little shop with our masks on, have some noodles and trash the place, knock you out,” it went on to say.
Schneider said the letter left him and his employees shaken, and some had asked to take the day off.
“It’s just frustrating,” he said.
Schneider said he fought with Smith at the restaurant November 6, 2020, and that Smith threatened him with a holstered gun. He said the incident began when he asked Smith to leave for refusing to wear a face mask.
The Lewis & Clark County Attorney’s office initially charged Smith with assault and illegally carrying a concealed weapon, but Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office took over the case and reached an agreement for Smith to plead guilty to the lesser charge. State attorneys said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove the earlier charges, and that the weapons charges were no longer a crime because the Montana Legislature had relaxed firearm restrictions.
While District Judge Kathy Seeley accepted the plea agreement at a December 9 hearing, she allowed the Schneiders to make lengthy victim-impact statements where they criticized the deal and Knudsen’s office. The letter alluded to those statements, which were shown in MTN’s coverage of the hearing, by calling Jessie Schneider a “whimpy cry baby.”
“She gave her honest statement in court, and that wasn’t easy to do,” John Schneider told MTN Tuesday.
Smith’s attorney disputed Schneider’s version of events, saying Schneider had initiated the fight and Smith didn’t threaten anyone with a gun.
Schneider said Tuesday that he had been in contact with the Helena Police Department about the letter, and he had advised his employees to be especially cautious, but they weren’t planning other changes to the restaurant’s operations. Police confirmed Tuesday morning that they had taken information on it, but said officers had not yet completed their initial report.