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Nieves holds no grudge against Bell, hopes for end of legal fight, he says

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 13, 2010 - State Rep. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, said in an exclusive interview Sunday night that his wife's cell phone and records have been subpoenaed in what he calls the continued "malicious prosecution" of accusations that Nieves assaulted the campaign aide of a rival Republican in this summer's nasty contest for the 26th District state Senate seat.

Nieves said the subpoenas came from the lawyers for the aide, Shawn Bell, and that he hopes they will drop civil action now that the Franklin County prosecutor announced Friday he is declining to pursue criminal changes against Nieves. Bell's lawyers have yet to publicly comment.

"It would seem to me, if I was Shawn Bell's attorneys, and learned in the last couple days that criminal charges were not going to move forward after the police department and detectives have done a thorough and rigorous investigation and they've decided there simply was not evidence to support what Shawn Bell is claiming ... I think I would look at that and think, 'We're barking up the wrong tree,' " Nieves said.

A hearing is set for Sept. 20 on Bell's request for a protective order against Nieves; Bell's lawyers previously had said they had not ruled out civil action.

Bell's allegations stem from a meeting in Nieves' office on Aug. 4, the day after Nieves won a four-way Republican primary for the open 26th District Senate post. Nieves now is favored to win the seat in the November general election.

Bell, who worked for rival Richard Stratman, said he stopped by Nieves' office to congratulate him. Bell alleged in his police complaint that Nieves head-butted him, forced him to partially strip and threatened him with a gun.

Nieves said the meeting was "not pleasant," but he calls the protective-order request "absolutely frivolous." Nieves pointed to Bell's own police complaint in which he acknowledged that he returned to Nieves' office within minutes of the alleged assault to collect his forgotten sunglasses and drink a soda.

Afteward, Bell then telephoned his father and a friend on his cell phone, Nieves said, and indicated to both that he planned to take no action against Nieves.

"Low and behold, when he talks to James Harris, his employer," Nieves added, Bell changes his mind and goes to police.

In his police complaint, Bell said he was forced by Nieves to call his wife and apologize. Nieves confirms that a call was made to his wife, but Nieves says that call was made on a landline, not a cell phone. Therefore, he doesn't understand why her phone and records were subpoenaed.

Nieves' version of the events reflect his continued belief that "somebody is pulling Shawn Bell's strings," although the legislator said he isn't saying at the moment who he believes that "somebody" is.

Nieves says he blames others, not Bell, for legal fight

At a prayer vigil held by supporters last month, Nieves had accused unnamed "kingmakers" in Jefferson City. "The Old Guard (within the GOP) feels threatened," Nieves said at that event, alleging that critics oppose him because he "won't be a lap dog. There is no way they will ever control Brian Nieves."

Nieves said Sunday that, despite such statements, Republican legislative leaders have "just been absolutely professional" in their treatment of him since his primary victory.

Nieves added that he has received only one call from a prominent Republican asking him "what needs to be done to make all this go away."

Nieves said he replied that the solution was to "leave me alone."

Still, Nieves would like to talk to one person -- Shawn Bell.

Nieves said that various press accounts have inaccurately stated that Bell used to work for him. Rather, Bell worked for former state House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, who was hired by Nieves a few years ago to help him with fundraising. Nieves said he had limited dealings with Bell during his time with Jetton and prior to this year's Senate contest.

As a result, Nieves said it was "a mystery" as to why Bell stopped by his office -- "where he was not welcome" -- the day after the primary.

That said, Nieves added, "Shawn Bell is not the person I have a beef with. ... I feel bad for Shawn. I would love to see Shawn Bell repair his image in Missouri."

But Nieves is not so charitable toward Harris, Bell's boss.

"I won't hide the fact that I have a beef with James Harris," Nieves said, explaining that he's still upset at Harris for overseeing "a super-negative campaign that backfired on him."

Even so, the legislator said he wanted to make it clear that "I am not making any accusations about James Harris. I'm simply inviting people to put two and two in their own mind."

Harris was the chief consultant for Stratman, the former mayor of Washington, Mo., who had been favored by some prominent GOP leaders, including the outgoing 26th District state senator, John Griesheimer, who has been critical of Nieves.

Nieves handily won the Republican primary, outpacing former state Rep. Jack Jackson of Wildwood and Stratman -- who finished a distant third.

During the campaign, at least two letters circulated throughout the district that alleged Nieves of personal improprieties. The letters were signed by people who could not be located. The campaigns of Stratman and Jackson have denied any involvement.

Nieves said Sunday that he and his lawyer "are seeking to prosecute the people who did that," but he declined further comment on the topic.

Nieves Acknowledges That He Routinely Carries a Gun

While denying Bell's account of their meeting, the legislator said he suspects that Bell's gun allegations reflect a bit of common knowledge among many Republicans.

"On any given day, 97 percent of the time, Brian Nieves is carrying a gun," the legislator said, adding that he is "skilled with firearms" and noted that he spent 10 years in the Navy. Nieves maintained, however, that he would never flourish a gun as Bell alleged.

(When asked if he is armed when he is in the state Capitol, Nieves replied politely, "That's none of your business."

People entering Missouri's state Capitol are not subject to security searches and do not go through metal detectors, although law enforcement personnel do patrol the corridors.)

Nieves, 45, is just completing the last of four two-year terms in the state House. He has set up businesses in strategic communications and marketing, and also has been involved in an auto dealership run by his family for 30 years.

Married for 21 years, and the father of three children, Nieves said he had never planned to get into politics and has no desire to run for governor or president. He ran for office, he said, because "I'm just one of those guys who got sick and tired."

Regardless of what happens, Nieves said the episode with Bell won't affect his approach to legislation. He is particularly interested in pressing for states' rights and fighting perceived overreach by the federal government. Nieves cites his efforts last session to win legislative approval of a resolution advocating state sovereignty.

"I have a history of being a lightning rod, a history of being a firebrand," Nieves said, adding that's unlikely to change. "I expect to be on the front lines of the Senate."

As for his current troubles? "If it wasn't so serious it would be absolutely laughable."

Nieves attended Sunday's Tea Party rally on the Arch grounds, where he was greeted with "congratulatory hugs and handshakes."

He has learned one thing from the controversy over Bell's allegations, Nieves added. "It's not consultants or lobbyists I need to look to. It's the people."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.