By Natalie Johnson
By closing arguments Friday afternoon — the third and final day in a trial against a man accused of forging the signatures of Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, a deputy prosecuting attorney and two police officers — the prosecution and defense were trading barbs along with arguments.
“He was angry because the police officers and prosecutors put him in prison,” said Deputy Prosecutor Don Richter. “It’s their fault … Never mind he pled guilty to the crimes. It’s always somebody else’s fault to Mr. Amos.”
Forrest E. Amos, 33, of Chehalis, was on trial for multiple counts of forgery and criminal impersonation. He acted as his own attorney throughout the trial, during which he painted himself as a repeated victim of the criminal justice system.
“They go to school their whole life to come in here and use this as a stage,” he said.
As of The Chronicle’s deadline, the jury was still deliberating the verdict for Amos, accused of forging the names of Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead and Centralia police officers Adam Haggerty and Chad Withrow on “forced commercial contracts,” citing the case number for a 2013 case in which Amos pleaded guilty in 2014 to 14 criminal charges.
Later Friday night, the jury voted to convict Amos on eight counts. His sentencing is scheduled for Thursday.
In 2016, Amos filed the four documents with the Lewis County Clerk’s Office, each purporting to be notice of a subrogation bond and a claim for $1 million each against the Prosecutor’s Office and Centralia Police Department’s bonds.
All of the documents were supposedly authorized by Meyer, Halstead, Haggerty and Withrow, and supposedly signed by each with a notary’s stamp.
However, all four men denied signing them or any knowledge of the documents.
“They didn’t authorize anyone to make those claims on their behalf,” said Deputy Prosecutor Don Richter, formerly of Pacific and now of the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office, representing the state during the trial this week.
Richter acted as a special prosecutor since Meyer and Halstead were victims.
Throughout the trial, Amos contended that the four alleged victims violated his constitutional rights in the 2013 case and that the civil subrogation process allowed him to legally file documents in the four men’s names. He said it did not constitute forgery or impersonation. He has also filed a lawsuit against the men.
“This is simply a process that is allowed by law,” he said. “I just simply printed the names of these people because these are the people that damaged me in my opinion.”
Richter countered during closing arguments, saying the conduct is illegal because Amos himself wrote the four victims’ names on signature lines, drafted the documents “in their character” and submitted the documents as if they came from the victims, rather than himself.
“He filled out the documents in their names, with the intent to defraud,” Richter said.
The allegedly forged documents hold Meyer, Halstead, Haggerty and Withrow liable for costs and fees associated with Amos’ 2014 conviction, up to their $1 million bond.
“It says, ‘(I) do hereby enter myself security for costs in the cause,’” Meyer read from the document while on the stand Friday morning. “It says that I’m basically agreeing to be bound to pay (those costs).”
The fines and penalties assessed to Amos in his 2014 conviction amount to about $18,000, he said.
If the document was genuine, and not forged, Meyer said it would mean he would have to pay that money and could affect the credit of the four victims.
“And not just in my official capacity,” he said, “But the way I read it is in my personal capacity, which is the troubling part. Because it’s in my personal capacity, it’s something I would have to disclose if I was going to apply for credit.”
Amos testified that he believed the law allowed him to “act in the shoes” of another person to assert his rights to their bond money, based on his allegation of a violation of his rights.
“I think the law allowed me to do it. I think I read the law right,” he said.
He said he expected the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to serve the notices. Instead, the forged signatures were discovered and the documents were forwarded to detectives for a criminal investigation.
“Mr. Amos would have you believe that all he is trying to do is lawfully sue his victims,” Richter said.
And, he added, Amos has every right to do that.
“What you do not have the right to do is falsify court documents in support of that claim,” he said. “That’s not suing, that’s forgery.”
Amos pleaded guilty in 2014 to 14 crimes including tampering with a witness, first-degree computer trespass, possession of marijuana with intent to manufacture or deliver, attempted possession of marijuana with intent, attempted forgery, three counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or deliver, four counts of delivery of a controlled substance, third-degree introducing contraband to a detention facility and second-degree attempted theft.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
As part of his plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges of leading organized crime and four charges of witness intimidation in a related case.
Amos filed, in January 2016, a personal restraint petition against Lewis County with the state Court of Appeals. Oral arguments were heard before the court May 25. A judgment has not yet been released.
On Aug. 16, 2016, Amos filed a lawsuit regarding his 2014 conviction in Lewis County Superior Court, acting as his own attorney, naming the city of Centralia, Centralia police officers Adam Haggerty and Chad Withrow, elected Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and deputy prosecutor Will Halstead.
Amos claimed detectives unlawfully seized Amos’ mail and legal materials because they believed Amos was using mail marked “Legal Mail” to communicate with people other than his attorney in an attempt to continue drug enterprises while incarcerated, or to intimidate witnesses.
Amos was allegedly caught in a recorded jail phone call discussing the scheme. The investigation resulted in the later-dismissed witness intimidation charges.
Amos’ lawsuit argued that detectives gave false statements and deprived him of his constitutional rights by seizing his legal mail.
Amos argued in the suit that he was forced to enter guilty pleas due to the seizure of his legal mail. He testified that he filed the “subrogation bonds” with the allegedly forged signatures as part of his civil actions against the prosecutors and officers.
The lawsuit was moved from Lewis County Superior Court to U.S. District Court last year.