Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Frank Bowen, who for more than two years pursued poaching charges against several law enforcement officers in Lake County, has been reassigned—temporarily, for now—to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The move, made official on Aug. 14, appeared to result from the stiff resistance Bowen faced in investigating the poaching cases, none of which have been prosecuted. Bowen, for example, received multiple death threats, and earlier this year Lake County Attorney Mitch Young filed a formal complaint against him, which was found to be without merit. Even FWP has tried to keep Bowen quiet, requiring the Montana Legislature's Law and Justice Interim Committee to subpoena him to testify about the findings of his investigations at a hearing in June.
In the memo to Bowen explaining the reassignment (PDF), Warden Captain Lee Anderson wrote:
Given the current [Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council (POST)] investigation into Lake County, the notice of intent to sue FWP by other law enforcement officers in Lake County, the unwillingness of County Attorney Mitch Young to prosecute any of your cases, combined with threats to your personal safety and jurisdictional questions regarding state game warden authority on the Flathead Indian Reservation, we feel this reassignment is in your, as well as the Department’s best interest for the time being.
Anderson's memo mentions Bowen's intentions to file formal complaints with the Attorney General's Office and the Office of Disciplinary Council against Young for smearing Bowen and refusing to prosecute his cases.
We want to make it clear that FWP does not support you doing this in your official capacity as a Montana Game Warden. FWP does not have control over what you do in your personal time as a private citizen. However, FWP has a responsibility to safeguard confidential criminal justice information from dissemination. It is FWP Legal Counsel's opinion that the use of confidential criminal justice information gathered in your official capacity as a Game Warden to file complaints would be a prohibited use of department information.
Bowen was unavailable for comment.
Poaching is one of the allegations of misconduct involving law enforcement officers from various agencies in Lake County. There are several others. POST, the state agency that polices the police, is investigating at least seven Lake County officers and could revoke their badges. Meanwhile, five current and former officers in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department filed a federal lawsuit alleging that four of their colleagues, including Sheriff Jay Doyle, retaliated against them for bringing forward evidence of wrongdoing within the department.