We didn’t see nothing, Jack. See what we’re doing? We’re being real.
Anyone from the eastern urban scene knows about the “Stop Snitchin’” movement, which aims to cease public cooperation with police investigations until law enforcement officers and agencies stop the protection of criminals within their ranks. In Baltimore, the message became so popular that police there launched a counter-campaign called “Keep Talkin’.” Those T-shirts never sold as well.
Here in Montana, we’re pretty far removed from the street warfare conditions, the mass hiding of police complaint records and the random cop-on-bicyclist cross checkings (see YouTube) that plague cities like Chicago and New York. Still, stuff happens even under the Big Sky.
Like when Hot Springs Police Chief Tom Coleman allegedly abused his authority by unnecessarily pulling a .22-caliber rifle on somebody last year. Wait, you didn’t hear about that? Well, we have the answer why—the town did literally everything it could to keep you from knowing.
The Independent heard of the complaint soon after Coleman sent a March 31 one-sentence resignation letter to then-Mayor Renea Keough, who put the chief on paid suspension two weeks earlier pending an investigation. The always-gabby folks of Hot Springs gave us two possible explanations regarding the charges Coleman might face—one turned out being accurate—but no official would substantiate the claims. Keough later resigned herself for purportedly unrelated reasons.
Official inquiries under the Montana Constitution and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests went out to multiple agencies in early May. The letters cast a wide net, asking for not only investigation files but also paper and e-mail correspondences between Coleman and elected officials. Nearly two months later, we got a small return of tell-nothing documents and an explanation that the town’s council members don’t use e-mail.
City Attorney Mark Russell said he sent a copy of the complaint to the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office and another to the Department of Justice. Justice officials told the Indy that Sanders County had sole authority over the investigation, so they had nothing to disclose. Sanders Sheriff Gene Arnold never returned our phone calls.
Eventually, Coleman missed his initial court appearance, prompting a judge to fire the signal shot in the air by issuing a warrant for the ex-chief’s arrest. We’re pretty sure the good ole’ boy network was really stoked about that. At least the public can feel better knowing the system provides for accountability… at least when the under-fire official misses a court date.