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Butte woman avoids prison time for death threats toward police, prosecutors

Butte woman avoids prison time for death threats toward police, prosecutors

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A judge gave a Butte woman a five-year suspended sentence Wednesday for allegedly posting death threats toward police officers, probation officers, prosecutors and others involved in her child custody cases.

District Judge Robert Whelan also gave 41-year-old Julie Maria Riojas a three-year suspended term for felony partner-family member assault in a separate case, but it runs concurrent to the five-year suspended term.

As part of the sentence, Riojas was to be immediately taken to a sober living facility in Billings to complete its substance abuse program and also complete 40 hours of counseling in domestic violence.

She is also prohibited from contacting or mentioning any of the victims in any way, including electronically. Whelan warned her that any violations or failure to complete the programs in Billings would lead to a revoked sentence and possible prison time.

“The stuff that has gone on in the past the court takes very seriously,” Whelan told Riojas, who appeared with her attorney via videoconference from jail.

Riojas said she understood and apologized to “everyone.”

“I am really sorry and I hope in time, everyone can move on,” she said. “I’m just really sorry.”

According to prosecutors, the state had placed Riojas’ children in foster care and she began posting comments about the situation on Facebook on Dec. 24 last year. She claimed she knew people who would kill the responsible parties and their families.

Riojas then began to share profiles and photos of police officers, other public officials and state child welfare workers who had been involved in her cases with hashtags such as #dead and variations of it. She included “children” and “family” in some of the threats, prosecutors say.

People sent police screenshots of the threats and one of the foster parents requested extra patrols of her home by officers. Riojas initially denied knowing anything about the posts and said her account had been hacked.

But she could not explain how a hacker would know all the people involved in her cases and “indicated she had no intent to follow through with any of the threats,” according to charging documents.

Riojas was initially charged with 10 counts of privacy in communications, two of them misdemeanors for first and second offenses and eight of them felonies. The felonies each carry maximum penalties of five years in prison.

In an agreement with prosecutors, she pleaded guilty to two of the misdemeanors and two of the felony counts and the remaining ones were dismissed.

In the other case, several officers went to take Riojas into custody for the alleged threats on Dec. 28 and a male relative at the residence said she had grabbed him by the arm and threatened to hit him with a phone. She later pleaded guilty to family-member assault.

After a final warning about violations, Whelan wished Riojas luck in turning her life around.

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