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Woman who caused havoc at Big M gets 10 years in prison

Athena Smith sentenced

Athena Smith, right, appears via video from the Butte jail Wednesday to be sentenced in a 2017 theft case and more serious assault and endangerment convictions tied to a 2019 incident at the Big M. Her attorney in the 2017 case, Jessica Polan, is sitting next to Smith in this photo.

A judge sentenced a Butte woman to 10 years in prison Wednesday for wreaking havoc in the Big M parking lot in 2019, smashing into cars with her SUV, striking several people and driving directly at an officer in his patrol car.

District Judge Robert Whelan said the sentence for Athena Lynn Smith provided punishment, offered a chance at rehabilitation and above all, provided protection for the community.

“I think that is the number one priority in this case,” Whelan said. His precise sentence was 25 years at the Montana Women’s Prison in Billings with 15 of those years suspended.

Whelan also sentenced her to 10 years for a 2017 burglary and theft, but it will run concurrent to the 2019 case.

Smith, 34, appeared Wednesday via video from the Butte jail with Jessica Polan, her attorney in the 2017 case. Her attorney in the 2019 case, Andrew Jenks, appeared before Whelan in District Court.

Prosecutors had initially charged her in 2019 with eight counts of felony criminal endangerment, five felony counts of criminal mischief, one felony count of assaulting an officer and two misdemeanor charges.

In a deal with prosecutors, she pleaded guilty to four felonies — two for criminal endangerment, one for assaulting a peace officer and one for criminal mischief — plus one misdemeanor assault count.

Prosecutor Ann Shea asked for 15 years in prison with another 15 suspended. Four youths were taken to St. James Healthcare and treated for injuries after the mayhem.

“There were a number of victims in this matter,” Shea told the judge Wednesday. “A lot of people were placed in danger.”

Defense attorney Andrew Jenks asked for a 20-year prison sentence with 10 suspended. He said Smith understood the serious nature of the offenses, but had mental health issues at the time that were exacerbated by substance abuse.

“Substance abuse was a major factor in what happened,” he said.

According to prosecutors, Smith drove to a parking area next to the Big M, also called Big Butte, on Aug. 6, 2019, and confronted several youths who were gathered to remember a friend who had died.

She tried to smudge several of them with sage, called them sinners and punched one girl in the stomach and grabbed her by the throat, witnesses said. She then got into her SUV and drove erratically, smashing into cars and striking people.

Smith then led police on a high-speed chase, at one point driving her car directly at an officer in a patrol car, before coming to a stop in a driveway on Western Avenue, prosecutors say. She then kicked and punched several officers as they tried to arrest her.

While an ambulance employee was checking on her at the jail, she told him she had consumed “a bunch of meth,” according to charging documents.

Jenks said Smith had three children and between 2012 and 2017, was employed and doing well.

“When motivated, she can be a productive member of society,” he said.

Shea said she did not think any of the victims knew Smith but wanted an order prohibiting Smith from contacting any of them when her prison time is up. Whelan granted the request.

Whelan gave Smith 806 days of credit for jail time already served.

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