Prosecutors in Maryland dropped criminal charges against a woman accused of accosting White House counselor Kellyanne Conway over her political views at a Mexican restaurant near Washington.
In a brief court appearance Monday morning, Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Kathy Knight said the office will not move forward on one count of second-degree assault and another of disorderly conduct that were filed five months ago by Montgomery County police.
At that time, police alleged that Mary Elizabeth Inabinett, 63, of Chevy Chase had been at Uncle Julio’s in Bethesda when she approached Conway from behind, grabbed her shoulders briefly and yelled, “Shame on you!” among other statements. The altercation resulted in Inabinett being removed from the restaurant, according to court documents, and followed a series of incidents in the D.C. area where aides to President Trump were taunted and heckled in public.
A trial had been scheduled to begin Monday. Conway and Inabinett were not in court before Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg.
In dismissing charges, prosecutors essentially declared that even if they could prove the case, Inabinett would not merit the types of punishment that could flow from a conviction.
She had no previous criminal record, did not injure Conway and agreed to apologize in a letter to Conway, according to Montgomery State’s Attorney John McCarthy, the county’s longtime prosecutor.
“Was this woman rude? Yes,” McCarthy said. “Did she violate Ms. Conway’s space and try to embarrass her? Yes and yes. Is this a case where criminal sanctions would have been appropriate? No.”
Knight said in court that “Ms. Inabinett chose that time and that place — inappropriately so — to make contact with Ms. Conway and vent her political opposition to Ms. Conway.” However, “given the lack of priors, the de minimus nature of the contact and the apology letter,” the state dismissed the counts, Knight told the judge.
The charges of second-degree assault and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, cover a wide range of conduct, with the assault count ranging from spitting to punching someone and the conduct charge applying to raising a public ruckus that affects the behavior of others.
“Dropping this case was a very reasonable exercise in prosecutorial discretion,” said David Felsen, a veteran defense lawyer in the county.
The events in question began the night of Oct. 14 when Inabinett was dining at Uncle Julio’s, part of a string of high-end shops and restaurants in Bethesda. Conway was there, too, with her daughter for a birthday celebration, according to court records.
Conway later described what happened to police:
“Conway stated that she was speaking with other individuals who were part of the party when she felt someone grab both of her shoulders from behind and shake her,” Cpl. Joseph McNally wrote in court papers. “Conway stated that at first she believed it was someone trying to get her attention for a hug before they left the party. When she turned around, she came face-to-face with the suspect who was screaming and making aggressive hand gestures towards her.”
In an interview later with CNN, Conway said she was assaulted.
“Somebody was grabbing me from behind, grabbed my arms and was shaking me,” she said, describing the woman identified as Inabinett as unhinged and out of control. “She ought to pay for that. She ought to pay for that. Because she has no right to touch anybody. She put her hands on me. I said, ‘Get your hands off me.’ She put her hands on me and was shaking me.”
Neither Conway nor Andrew C. White, an attorney who represented her in the matter, replied to requests for comment Monday.
William McDaniel, an attorney for Inabinett, declined to comment and said his client had no comment. He previously had said after the charges were made that Inabinett “saw Kellyanne Conway, a public figure, in a public place, and exercised her First Amendment right to express her personal opinions. She did not assault Ms. Conway.”
Second-degree assault in Maryland can be as minor as a grab or a push if the action was not one a victim consented to, said Louis Leibowitz, a Maryland defense lawyer who has taught trial practice at the American University Washington College of Law. But certain acts, while not welcomed, do not rise to a crime, Leibowitz said.
From the charging document, Leibowitz — who had no role in the case — noted that Conway told police that she initially thought someone was trying to get her attention before they left the party. “There was probably a defense argument that it wasn’t un-consented but was part of social interaction,” Leibowitz said.