Polson Police Chief Wade Nash, accused of tampering with and intimidating a witness and violating the public safety officers’ code of ethics, will keep his badge.
So will Polson Police Officer Cory Anderson, also accused of witness tampering and intimidation, and whose history of alcohol abuse led to five counts of alleged misconduct.
The Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST, the quasi-judicial board that certifies public safety officers, brought the cases against Nash and Anderson in March 2012. The parties agreed to resolutions of both cases last month. The resolutions stipulate that, in order to retain their law enforcement certifications, Nash and Anderson must attend ethics training. Nash (PDF) must also attend training in evidence procedures, while Anderson (PDF) will undergo a chemical dependency evaluation.
Nash and Anderson are two of the seven officers in four separate Lake County law enforcement agencies POST has served with notices of possible certification revocation since the agency began investigations in 2010. Cases against two other officers—Ronan Police Chief Dan Wadsworth and former Lake County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dan Duryee—remain open. Three cases have been dropped.
The complaints against Nash (PDF) and Anderson (PDF) have in common one incident that occurred in June 2010. According to POST, the officers were off-duty and intoxicated when, at 1:17 a.m., Nash used Anderson’s cellphone to call and intimidate a witness in a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks poaching investigation that implicated several Lake County officers. Nash allegedly told the witness, in a “forceful manner,” not to talk to investigators.
POST also accused Nash of accepting, in 2004, a shotgun as a gift for coordinating a sale of guns seized as evidence, a violation of a state law that says officers “will refuse to accept any gifts, favors, gratuities, or promises that could be interpreted as favor.” Nash still owns the gun, and POST did not stipulate that he forfeit it.
In addition to witness tampering, Anderson was also accused of “the use of alcoholic beverages in a manner which tends to discredit the profession.” POST counted four alcohol related incidents involving Anderson in its amended complaint, dated Oct. 18. Those included getting kicked out a bar for public intoxication in Beaverhead County, an alcohol-related car crash in Polson in 2002, and alcohol-related domestic abuse, for which the POST Council suspended him for two years, beginning in 2005, calling it “gross misconduct.”
The original complaint against Anderson (PDF), dated March 30, also listed a 2004 incident in which Anderson was driving a boat on Flathead Lake while under the influence of alcohol and pulling a woman in an inner tube. The woman, 38-year-old Laura Lee Grant, was flung from the tube, broke her neck and died. Anderson worked in the Lake County Sheriff’s Office at the time. His colleagues didn’t measure his blood-alcohol content until about two and a half hours after the accident, when he blew a 0.055. It’s unclear why POST struck that incident from its amended complaint.
After POST filed its original complaint against Anderson, his attorney, Joshua Van de Wetering of Missoula, wrote in a letter to POST Executive Director Wayne Ternes (PDF) that Anderson “categorically denies all of the allegations you have lodged against him…Indeed, the very ‘facts’ listed in support of the allegations delineate only rumor, innuendo or entirely innocent facts from which you apparently mean to encourage wildly far-fetched inferences of nefariousness.”
But the discussion during a Dec. 20 POST Council meeting painted a different picture. Assistant Attorney General Sarah Hart, who represents POST, described both Nash and Anderson as being apologetic and desperate. She paraphrased Nash, during the deposition process, as saying, “Please, don’t take my license away. Please. What do I need to do? How can we fix this?”
Hart described Anderson as “really emotional” during the deposition, and said he acknowledged it was wrong to call the witness. She said Anderson stressed how hard he worked to get reemployed after his two-year suspension. She paraphrased him as saying, “Please, please, don’t take that away from me. What do I have to do to convince you that I’m okay?”
Hart and the POST Council concluded that a chemical dependency evaluation is enough.
During the meeting, Hart spoke in general terms about the lack of ethics she’s encountered within Lake County law enforcement agencies. Several times she described the environment as the “wild, wild West.” She also called it “utterly terrifying,” and reiterated why POST’s intervention is so important.
“When we went into this case, the stuff that was going on, you wouldn’t believe it,” she told the POST Council members. “But the bottom line is that, in this instance, what happened was POST came in and rang some bells…and said, ‘Hey, we’re paying attention here, guys. You’ve got to clean this nonsense up. This is not okay.’”
It was a message the agencies didn’t welcome. “They were furious,” she said during the meeting. “If they could have spilled blood, they would have.”
Nash and Anderson’s punishments come as validation for POST Acting Executive Director Clay Coker. Many officials in Lake County and beyond have decried POST’s investigations. Polson-Ronan City Attorney James Raymond has called it a “smear campaign.” Lake County Attorney Mitch Young has refused to prosecute; Hart said during December’s meeting that Young won’t touch the cases “with a 10-foot pole.” The pushback led to POST Director Ternes being placed on administrative leave last summer.
“I got to say,” Coker said during the meeting, “that this is one of those [cases where] people stood in front of you a year ago [and said], ‘How dare you look at my agency. There’s no problem here’…But at the end of the day, there’s some merit to a couple of these [cases], and they ended up admitting to it.”
POST dropped the cases against Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Officer Jason Nash (unrelated to Wade Nash), Lake County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mike Sergeant and former Lake County Undersheriff Karey Reynolds.