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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Corrupt Minority Holds Honorable Law Enforcement Hostage

Alleged corruption in sheriff’s office prompts meeting 
The Daily Inter Lake by Jesse Davis  -  April 21, 2012

Allegations of corruption in the Lake County Sheriff’s Office may lead to new powers for the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council. During a meeting Friday afternoon, the Montana Legislature’s Law and Justice Interim Committee heard testimony from representatives of several organizations regarding the adequacy of current statutes related to the investigation of situations similar to the one alleged to exist in Lake County. Allegations include potential poaching violations by local officers, potential election law violations, theft of ammunition and gun parts and obstruction of justice. Mike Batista, a Montana Department of Justice administrator, says that three of the investigations are ongoing and could result in prosecution. POST Executive Director Wayne Ternes asked in particular that the organization be designated as a criminal justice agency. That designation would give the agency broader powers of investigation, the ability to make arrests and the ability to have employees with peace officer status. Ternes also said POST would benefit from having subpoena power from the beginning of its investigations. Currently, he said, that power doesn’t kick in until contested hearings are held. In addition to early subpoena power, Ternes said having a staff attorney would help keep outside forces from having the opportunity to influence prosecution. Committee members seemed to be tentatively in favor of the changes, although some noted that the staff attorney might not be possible due to cost issues. There was some pushback to a suggestion by committee chairman Jim Shockley that any complaints of corruption by civilians go directly to the Montana attorney general’s office, which would be responsible for investigating and disposing of the cases. All such complaints are currently handled by county sheriffs and county attorneys.

“The only way to resolve [these situations] — and it’s in the sheriff’s interest and the attorney’s interest that it gets resolved — is to have the attorney general step in,” Shockley said. His thought was that if the complaint potentially included the sheriff or attorney, their being involved could interfere with a proper investigation taking place. Sen. Shannon Augare disagreed. “I don’t think it should become a function of the [attorney general’s] office,” Augare said He added that the best solutions come from local government and that they have a duty and an obligation to investigate themselves. In support of his argument, he referred to an incident in Glacier County — which he represents — in the 1990s, when the sheriff was convicted of a federal crime. He said that showed the current system works. “I’m not so convinced there are a number of issues outside of Lake County,” Augare said. Despite that disagreement, Augare supported the changes to POST. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Captain Lee Anderson provided a written response to the committee’s questions from his agency. Chief Deputy Attorney General Ali Bovingdon also provided a written response to the committee’s questions while stating that it seemed to be straying outside its job of oversight. “We have concerns that our participation on a panel ... could compromise the integrity of ongoing investigations,” Bovingdon said. “Because of that, we determined that providing our testimony in writing was the best way to proceed.” Some of the committee’s questions on policy and procedure were answered by Batista, administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigation within the Department of Justice. He also shared that the office has received about 10 investigation referrals regarding Lake County, including three pending cases. Neither Lake County Sheriff Jay Doyle nor Lake County Attorney Mitch Young accepted the invitation to appear, instead sending the attorney representing them in a federal case filed by current and former deputies. Attorney Mike Sehestedt said he advised both not to attend or speak on the matter due to the pending litigation, which names Doyle and three others as defendants. “It was not based on a lack of respect either for the work of this committee or the Legislature as a whole,” Sehestedt said. During a public comment period at the end of the hearing, two of the five plaintiffs in the case against Doyle spoke.

Steven Kendley said the unethical and corrupt behavior is basically protected because the attorney general waits for county attorneys’ permission to look into such cases. “This flawed situation sorely needs correction,” Kendley said, later adding that law enforcement in Lake County was “an honorable profession being held hostage by a minority.” Ben Woods said he was confident that their lawsuit would result in the truth coming out, but he was unhappy because he believed it would also be a “great embarrassment to the state of Montana.” That was why he said policies and procedures need to change. “We should not have had to take this step into federal court,” Woods said. “There needs to be another method.” Bart Mulvihill traveled all the way from Hawaii to attend the meeting. He shared the story of his wife’s family, whose son died of a gunshot wound three years ago. Mulvihill said they provided a large amount of evidence to Young and Lake County detectives, but they refused to keep investigating the death, ruling it a suicide. A meeting with representatives from the attorney general’s office months later garnered their support in further investigation. “These people have suffered intensely at the hands of other people not wanting to do their job,” he said. “The state must step in and create oversight.” The only action taken by the committee was to retract its permission for Shockley to sign subpoenas requiring the presence of one Fish, Wildlife and Parks employee and a Montana Department of Justice employee. Shockley may still sign a subpoena for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Frank Bowen, but he had not yet signed it at the time. The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or at

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