To serve and deflect 

Lake County cops mostly avoided punishment after being accused of abusing their power. The investigators who went after them weren't so lucky.

Last year, investigators accused seven Lake County police officers of a range of dishonorable and criminal acts, including poaching, perjury, nepotism, ethics violations, false claims of military combat, and witness tampering and intimidation. The investigators moved to strip those officers of their badges.

As of last week, all seven cases have been resolved. One officer lost his badge. Of the other six, complaints were dismissed against three cops, two were issued minor sanctions and one was given a lengthy suspension.

The two primary investigators did not get off so easy. A Montana game warden and the director of the state agency that polices the police became the targets of smear campaigns that undermined their work exposing what the warden called a "culture of corruption" pervading law enforcement agencies in Lake County. Both left their positions—the warden was reassigned, while the director resigned under pressure.

The reputed mantra of the accused officers—that "you can't break the law if you are the law"—appears to ring as true today as when the investigations began more than three years ago.

In spring 2012, the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST, the body that certifies and decertifies police, brought complaints against the seven Lake County officers. The Missoula Independent requested access to those complaints and related documents. Four of those requests landed in court. At issue was the officers' individual privacy versus the public's right to know their alleged offenses. Over the last several months, Helena District Court Judge Kathy Seeley followed established case law by ruling in favor of the public, writing in one of the orders, dated June 3, that the officer in question, "as a public employee in a position of public trust, may have less of a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the information that bears on his ability to perform public duties."

The judge's orders set a new precedent of transparency for POST, which had lacked policy on whether files detailing complaints against peace officers are public record. Now they are.

Seeley's orders, combined with three officers waiving their right to privacy, granted the Independent access to hundreds of documents—all of the evidence POST had compiled in bringing complaints against Lake County Lt. Mike Sargeant, Sgt. Dan Duryee and former Undersheriff Karey Reynolds; Polson Police Chief Wade Nash and Officer Cory Anderson; Ronan Police Chief Dan Wadsworth; and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Officer Jason Nash.

The evidence reveals an above-the-law culture in Lake County law enforcement agencies, described by POST counsel and assistant attorney general Sarah Hart as "utterly terrifying" and a present-day "wild, wild West."

But as troubling as the evidence itself is the lack of criminal charges. Lake County Attorney Mitch Young has declined to prosecute and thwarted any investigation of Lake County officers, to the point that he's been accused of breaking the law himself. The Montana Department of Justice has largely avoided intervention. And depositions given by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wardens suggest election-year politics surrounding former Attorney General Steve Bullock's successful campaign for governor in 2012 cut short the investigation of an organized poaching club because of how it may reflect on the state's chief law enforcement officer.

The onus of justice has fallen solely to POST, which is not a criminal justice agency but rather an administrative quasi-judicial board. The agency's power is limited to suspending or revoking an officer's badge—even if an officer is alleged to have committed a felony crime.

If some of the evidence lacks specificity to prosecute or revoke officers' badges, as state officials claim, the evidence nonetheless deepens the doubt over whether certain Lake County cops and officials entrusted with enforcing the law have abided by it themselves.


•••

Over the course of nearly two years, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Frank Bowen says he compiled 65 pounds of documents and recordings detailing what was known as the Coyote Club, a circle of Lake County officers who for a decade had allegedly poached deer, elk and other animals. The investigation was controversial. Bowen received death threats; one referred to the warden taking a "dirt nap." Some of the incidents Bowen investigated occurred in Flathead, Ravalli and Beaverhead counties, but the cases originated in Lake County.

click to enlarge Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Frank Bowen - FRANK BOWEN
  • Frank Bowen
  • Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Frank Bowen

In January 2012, five of Bowen's superiors, including FWP Regional Supervisor Jim Satterfield, met with Bowen about his investigations. During that meeting, Bowen was told—as he later recounted in a sworn deposition—that it was time to "wrap it up."

"What they asked," Bowen said, "is we try to slow down the pace for some of this stuff because it...was getting close to an election."

At the time, the attorney general, Steve Bullock, was running for governor. In Bowen's deposition, he spoke to his supervisors' concern that continuing his investigation would further highlight what some had called Bullock's inadequate oversight of the law enforcement agencies in Lake County. The attorney general's office generally defers to local prosecutors; if a county attorney or sheriff or chief of police doesn't request an outside investigation, the state won't intervene. That policy held even after two FWP game wardens and two Lake County sheriff's deputies met with Bullock in January 2011 to present the wide-ranging allegations of misconduct involving Lake County cops and officials. Bullock's office said there wasn't enough evidence.

FWP Warden Captain Lee Anderson would later confirm, also in a sworn deposition, that Bowen's investigations were cut short because of what Anderson called "political stuff." He said, "There was a lot of press, a lot of publicity...and so they wanted to see us wrap this thing up as quick as we can to get it done."

The Independent first reported on Bowen's investigations in a December 2011 feature story.

Bowen quickly finalized his poaching case reports and, in February 2012, passed them to Mitch Young and the other county attorneys.

Bowen didn't expect that his investigations would make him a target of Lake County's prosecutor and the state, but that's what happened.

Young pilloried Bowen. The county attorney emailed Jim Kropp, FWP's chief of law enforcement, among several others, saying Bowen's case files were "poorly organized, relied almost exclusively on rumor and hearsay, contained irrelevant information and included accusations that Bowen knew were not true." He also called the files "inadequate and clearly devoid of probable cause." Young declared that "the Lake County Attorney's Office will not prosecute any cases that come out of Bowen's investigations" until the state launched a separate investigation into Bowen's conduct. The other county attorneys in Flathead, Ravalli and Beaverhead counties also sat on Bowen's cases.

FWP granted Young's request and Missoula-based Warden Captain Jeff Darrah conducted an investigation of Bowen in March 2012. Darrah found Young's accusations meritless and intended solely to impede Bowen's investigative efforts. But FWP wouldn't release Darrah's report exonerating Bowen because the agency said it contained confidential criminal justice information. Withholding the report worked to further delay potential prosecution during the 2012 election season.

The Montana Legislature's Law and Justice Interim Committee subpoenaed Bowen to testify about his poaching investigations at a June 2012 hearing at the Montana Capitol. The day before the hearing, Bowen was summoned to meet in Kalispell with FWP Regional Supervisor Satterfield and Warden Captain Anderson. During the meeting, as Bowen later claimed in a grievance before the state Board of Personnel Appeals, Satterfield made "several verbal comments intended to intimidate Warden Bowen into an altered testimony." Bowen said Satterfield's motivations were political, quoting Satterfield in the complaint as saying, "Are you willing to fall on your sword just to make the Democratic Party look bad?" Bowen also said Satterfield told him to "ride for the brand" and "do what you're told or there could be consequences." Satterfield reportedly said, "This isn't about ethics or doing the right thing. It is about your survival." Warden Captain Anderson, in his deposition, corroborated that Satterfield said statements to this effect.

During the hearing, former Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, who chaired the committee (and who was in the middle of a failed bid for attorney general), tried to understand why FWP couldn't release Darrah's report exonerating Bowen. Shockley said he'd "never heard of a complaint being public but the dismissal secret." FWP Chief Legal Counsel Rebecca Jakes Dockter said Bowen himself was allowed to release a redacted version of the report, but his supervisors told him in private that doing so would be "a violation of a direct order and punishable by being fired," as Bowen told the Independent at the time.

The Independent filed an open records request for Darrah's report, which FWP rejected. But the Independent recently obtained the report and several other documents related to Bowen's cases after they were subpoenaed as part of a federal lawsuit filed in February 2012 accusing four officers in the Lake County Sheriff's Office—Sheriff Jay Doyle, Undersheriff Dan Yonkin, Lt. Mike Sargeant and Sgt. Dan Duryee—of organized crime.

In his report, Darrah called Young's mass-emailed complaint about Bowen "totally inappropriate," with "potential detrimental effects to not only Warden Frank Bowen, but to FWP in general."

Darrah continued: "It appears that County Attorney Mitch Young is trying to discredit Warden Frank Bowen in every way possible. This seems inappropriate from a prosecutor's office, maybe from a defense attorney I would expect such a thing."

Darrah accused Young of tampering with a witness when Young quizzed the witness on what she'd told Bowen. Darrah also criticized Young for accusing Bowen of "operating on hearsay evidence" when "it appears that is exactly what County Attorney Mitch Young is doing here."

"Personally I feel that County Attorney Mitch Young is trying to kill Frank Bowen's credibility and thus have this case go away with possibly several others," Darrah concluded.

In the weeks following the June 2012 hearing, Bowen asked his supervisors to report Darrah's findings and Young's alleged misconduct to Bullock's office. They equivocated. Bowen decided he would deliver the document himself, but Satterfield warned that doing so would be insubordination and grounds for termination. Satterfield penned a letter to Bowen summarizing his "oral warning regarding unauthorized release of FWP complaints to other agencies." Satterfield wrote, "Any and all information obtained by means of your official capacity as a game warden cannot be used on a personal basis." The letter also noted that Bowen was no longer authorized to talk with POST about any investigations.

In Bowen's grievance before the Board of Personnel Appeals, he called Satterfield's demands "a virtual gag order."

Meanwhile, Bowen was temporarily reassigned as a FWP warden to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. In a memo to Bowen dated Aug. 14, 2012, Warden Captain Anderson said the move was in Bowen's and the FWP's best interest, given the POST investigation and the "unwillingness of County Attorney Mitch Young to prosecute any of your cases, combined with threats to your personal safety," among other reasons. The memo ordered Bowen "not to conduct any work activities in the Polson warden district." Anderson made the reassignment permanent effective Jan. 28, 2013.

As for Bowen's grievance before the Board of Personnel Appeals, he and FWP reached a settlement agreement last month. The June 11 document acknowledges that Satterfield threatened to fire Bowen for being honest.

"It is not within legitimate management directives for supervisors to direct employees to tell less than the truth or the whole truth," the settlement reads. "Threats of losing one's job can be intimidating and are not to be used."

The settlement goes on to note Bowen's first-rate record as a game warden. "He consistently met expectations of his supervisors in all categories and exceeded expectations in numerous categories," it states. "We regret any misleading statements construed by the public as unflattering and damaging to your reputation."

Satterfield did not respond to a request for comment.

Mitch Young and the three other county attorneys have still not prosecuted any of Bowen's poaching cases.


•••

Around the time Frank Bowen began taking sworn statements from Lake County Sheriff's Office deputies and detectives about the Coyote Club, in fall 2010, POST Director Wayne Ternes started building a case against Lake County Sgt. Dan Duryee.

Duryee, who had worked in the department since 1998, lied about serving in the military. One former colleague testified to POST that Duryee claimed to have been "a U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant in Iraq during the first Gulf War" and that he had "seen combat, lost members of his unit in battle, and had killed enemy combatants." Another person testified that Duryee claimed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Early on in POST's investigation, Ternes wrote, "It is evident that Duryee was allowed to be a member of the Special Response Team and a sniper without attending any formal training, based on his false claims of military service and combat experience. It is also evident that Duryee was given command of the Special Response Team" based on those claims.

Duryee, in a September 2010 letter to Sheriff Lucky Larson, admitted to lying, though only once, calling it a "fish story."

Ternes' case against Duryee was the first of seven POST would file against Lake County officers.

click to enlarge Former Lake County Sgt. Dan Duryee
  • Former Lake County Sgt. Dan Duryee

But before Duryee's or any of the other cases went to a hearing, Ternes, like Bowen, himself became the subject of an investigation.

At the same June 2012 Law and Justice Interim Committee hearing at which Bowen was ordered to deliver a half-truth testimony, Ternes requested that the committee draft legislation that would help POST investigate allegations against officers. He proposed to designate POST a criminal justice agency and grant it investigative authority.

The committee chairman, at least, supported the proposals, but they were met with stiff resistance from state law enforcement associations. Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir, president of the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police, wrote a letter to POST Council in July 2012 stating that Ternes' requests amounted to a "power grab." Muir told the Independent at the time that he didn't want POST to "just come in and flex the licensing authority," and that it should remain "strictly an administrative agency."

POST Council subsequently placed Ternes on administrative leave while a Helena-based human resources consultant investigated Ternes' job performance.

In October 2012, the consultant, Jim Kerins, completed a 214-page report informed by 24 interviews with people who had worked with Ternes—mostly sheriffs, police chiefs, city and county attorneys and current and former POST Council members. They voiced a number of complaints, among them the fact that Ternes proposed legislation without approval of the POST Council. Others complained about "office administration issues that were not addressed in an effective or timely manner."

"Instead of returning phone calls, updating training records, and maintaining the certification program, he wants to police the police, and go out and investigate law enforcement," said Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin.

Montana Police Protective Association Director Jerry Williams said POST had spent "much more time on investigations as opposed to doing what they are supposed to be doing—providing and certifying training."

The word "trust"—as in, the lack of it—appears 55 times in the report. But Jim Smith, the Libby police chief and a POST Council member, said, "If trust is broken with MACOP and MPPA, so what? We don't work for MACOP and MPPA, we work for the citizens of Montana."

Sarah Hart, the assistant attorney general and POST counsel, tried to put the differing views into perspective when interviewed for the report. "I think Wayne Ternes needs a slap on the wrist...But I think the big thing is local agencies don't like being regulated. I think they don't like it at all, and are taking it out on Wayne," she said.

In other words, police don't think they need any policing.

Ternes defended himself in the report. He was quoted as saying, "I am not here to make friends and I am not here for political reasons." He called the Lake County situation "the stuff movies are made of." He said the former Lake County sheriff, Lucky Larson, warned him to steer clear of the county "because it wouldn't be safe."

"What kind of thing is that to say to a state official?" asked Ternes. "There is stuff we've been privy to and information that needs to go through the process."

In January of this year, Ternes received a pre-termination notice. He responded with a letter to POST Council Chairman Hal Harper largely denying the complaints against him. He also called his performance review "one-sided" and based on "agencies that we currently had open complaints against specific officers."

Ternes resigned from POST on May 3. In the resignation agreement Ternes said he would not file suit against the state.

Meanwhile, just days before Ternes left, Dan Duryee, the officer who told a "fish story" about his military experience, was stripped of his law enforcement certifications by POST Council, barring him from ever wearing a badge in Montana again. He had already resigned, in January, from the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Mike McCarter, the POST hearing officer, wrote in his revocation recommendation that "there is little in the record to show remorse," and Duryee had "failed to acknowledge and take responsibility for his lies." McCarter also called into question Duryee's "honesty and integrity."

During the meeting at which POST Council voted to strip Duryee of his badge, Lake County Sheriff Jay Doyle attested to the quality of Duryee's character. He did this even though Duryee had lied directly to the sheriff about serving in the military, as Doyle acknowledged in a deposition.


•••

In summer 2010, as the race for Lake County Sheriff was heating up, an anonymous group called Concerned Citizens of Lake County created two websites to disseminate allegations of misconduct by Lake County officers, including participation in the Coyote Club. Polson Police Chief Wade Nash knew, as he said in a deposition late last year, that only a couple people were aware of the Coyote Club. One was Jennifer Cannon. She'd been in a relationship with Lake County Lt. Mike Sargeant, the officer who, according to Nash, created a hunting club within the department in the late '90s.

On June 23, 2010, at 1:17 in the morning, Nash and Polson Police Officer Cory Anderson, both of whom were off-duty in a Helena motel room and had been drinking, called Cannon on Anderson's cellphone. According to an investigative report filed a few months later by Frank Bowen, Nash took the phone from Anderson and "warned Jennifer not to speak to Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigators. Cannon felt threatened and told Nash his hunting indiscretions were the worst kept secret in Lake County." Cannon eventually hung up. Phone records show that the officers called her two more times over the next hour.

In March 2012, POST filed complaints against Nash and Anderson alleging witness tampering and intimidation. In their depositions, both deny the allegations. Nash said he asked Cannon if she was releasing the information to Concerned Citizens of Lake County. "It was not a threat," he said. "It was a simple question. There was no investigation going on."

But there was, in fact, an investigation going on. About three months before Nash and Anderson called Cannon, FWP, after receiving a tip, launched an investigation into the hunting activities of Jesse Jacobs, a Lake County Sheriff's Office reserve deputy. The tip also named Mike Sargeant.

Beyond witness tampering, POST also accused Nash of accepting, in 2004, a shotgun as a gift for coordinating a sale of guns seized as evidence.

Anderson got POST's attention with repeated alcohol-related offenses. POST accused him of "the use of alcoholic beverages in a manner which tends to discredit the profession." POST counted three other drunken incidents involving Anderson over the course of several years, including domestic abuse, for which the POST Council suspended him for two years beginning in 2005.

click to enlarge Sarah Hart, assistant attorney general and POST counsel - CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Sarah Hart, assistant attorney general and POST counsel

POST did not ultimately list in its complaint the 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 registered a 0.055. The attorney general's office reviewed the incident and determined that "proof of his actual blood-alcohol level would be difficult" because of the amount of time that lapsed before Anderson's BAC test. The state declined to prosecute.

At a December 2012 POST Council meeting, the members voted to let Nash and Anderson keep their badges as long as both attended ethics training. Nash was ordered to also attend training in evidence procedures, while Anderson agreed to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation.

During that meeting, Sarah Hart spoke in general terms about the lack of ethics she's encountered within Lake County law enforcement agencies.

"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.'"

Members of the law enforcement agencies were "furious," Hart said. "If they could have spilled blood, they would have."

She said Lake County Attorney Mitch Young wouldn't touch the cases "with a 10-foot pole."

Young did not respond to a request for comment. Last year he ignored an open records request filed by the Independent.


•••

In Polson Police Chief Wade Nash's deposition, he recalled that on one night in 1998, his first year with the Polson Police Department, he met Mike Sargeant, an officer in the Lake County Sheriff's Office. They and a few other officers were inside the sheriff's office, and Sargeant started talking about hunting. The season was approaching. Sargeant suggested that they form a club.

Nash said in his deposition that he remembers his exact response to the idea. "I said, 'that's gay,' all right, because I had never heard of no hunting clubs." Nash said he also told Sargeant that non-tribal members can't hunt big game on the Flathead Indian Reservation. "I said, 'The only thing you can hunt is coyotes. So what are you going to name it, the Coyote Club?'"

The club never formed, Nash said. It was "just one of those stigmatisms [sic]...brought up as a joke...There never has been no club, but that's where it originated from."

The evidence that Frank Bowen compiled over the course of nearly two years suggests that there was a club, members of which illegally poached game on the reservation for more than a decade. Bowen concluded that Sargeant and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Officer Jason Nash were the club's central figures.

click to enlarge TONY MARTINO
  • Tony Martino

Bowen obtained one taxidermist's records showing that between 2001 and 2005, Sargeant, Jason Nash, Wade Nash, Dan Duryee and Ryan Funke, a Lake County Sheriff's deputy, brought in 26 animals—deer, elk, moose, antelope and bear. Two other taxidermists told Bowen that Sargeant and Jason Nash were their best customers. One said that over a two-year span, the officers brought in 16 trophy deer, two trophy elk and two bears. The other said they'd bring in 10 or 12 animals a year.

A former Lake County deputy told Bowen that Coyote Club members would leave poached animals at a taxidermy shop under Nash's name; as a tribal member, there's no limit to the number of animals he could take. "Anything not tagged with a state license went under the name of Jason Nash," the former deputy said. "Everyone believed that because Nash was a tribal member and a tribal police officer, no one could or would do anything about it."

As Bowen noted in a case report he forwarded to POST in February 2012, nine of Sargeant's alleged violations, including hunting without a license and from a vehicle, occurred several years ago and were beyond the statute of limitations. But Bowen believed Sargeant could still be charged with unlawful possession and transportation of game, obstructing justice and tampering with evidence. The latter charge is based on the allegation that, in June 2010, when Concerned Citizens of Lake County was posting information online about the Coyote Club, Jason Nash and Ryan Funke removed animal mounts from Sargeant's home.

In September 2010, Bowen and a tribal game warden interviewed Jason Nash, who claimed that he'd never hunted with Sargeant on the reservation, never gave Sargeant or others game meat, and only gave Sargeant four or five deer and one or two elk. Bowen subsequently gathered more evidence that he said demonstrated Nash's claims were materially false. Though, as with Sargeant, many of Nash's alleged violations were beyond the statute of limitations, Bowen sought to charge Nash with obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and conspiracy.

POST proposed suspending or revoking Sargeant's and Jason Nash's badges. In November 2012, the complaints were dismissed without prejudice, meaning the cases can be reopened.

With Ternes on administrative leave, Clayton Coker, who had been a POST investigator, filled in as acting executive director. He's since been hired as sheriff in Dunn County, N.D. In a recent interview, Coker said he couldn't corroborate much of Bowen's evidence.

"I tried to go out and talk to these witnesses and I couldn't find anybody that could testify to anything I could use to prove a case to take their licenses," Coker said. "Do I believe some things were going on? Yeah. But I got to have some solid evidence to make a charge."

Coker said that since the Coyote Club investigation began, poaching in Lake County has dropped off. "Whether it was law enforcement or not...a light had been shown on the hunting violation issues and they kind of died down to nothing," he said.


•••

On July 16, in a room at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena, Ronan Police Chief Dan Wadsworth and his attorney, Ted Chester, sat before the POST Council waiting for it to decide Wadsworth's fate. POST had accused Wadsworth of a slew of falsifications going back nearly a decade, but the case boiled down to Wadsworth's son, Trevor. In late 2010, Wadsworth signed Trevor's MLEA application certifying that Trevor had met all of the requirements to attend the academy, when in fact Trevor had not. POST argued Wadsworth knew Trevor did not meet the necessary conditions.

The requirements to attend the academy include being an employed, sworn peace officer. While Trevor Wadsworth was attending basic training—something every Montana officer must do within 12 months of being hired—POST discovered that Trevor was neither employed nor had he taken the oath of office. Trevor Wadsworth then left the academy.

MLEA Director Kevin Olson subsequently suspended Dan Wadsworth's ability to enroll students at the academy because of "several years of a willful pattern of deceit and deception enrolling people that were not law enforcement officers." At least twice before, in 2004 and 2005, Dan Wadsworth had committed similar offenses.

click to enlarge Former Ronan Police Chief Dan Wadsworth - CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Former Ronan Police Chief Dan Wadsworth

After Trevor left the academy, as Sarah Hart told POST Council, "Trevor went back to the city of Ronan and continued to operate as a police officer—badge, uniform, gun." As POST investigated Dan Wadsworth, the City of Ronan produced a document in May 2011 indicating that Trevor had legitimately been hired and sworn in. POST, based on Wadsworth's inconsistent statements in his deposition, believes this document was also falsified.

Regardless, Trevor Wadsworth didn't complete basic training, and he still hasn't—yet he's still working as a cop. As of this week, Ronan dispatch confirmed Trevor remains an officer in the department.

"[Dan Wadsworth is] putting officers on the street who have no authority to be police officers," Hart said.

POST can't take action to revoke Trevor Wadsworth's certification because he doesn't actually have one. Attorney General Tim Fox's spokesman, John Barnes, said in a statement that the attorney general's office hopes the situation "can be resolved amicably and at the local level," but that the "Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that only properly trained and credentialed individuals are serving as law enforcement officers."

One of POST's counts against Dan Wadsworth was "willful violation of the code of ethics." His attorney argued that because the code of ethics was updated in 2008, well after Wadsworth received all of his law enforcement certifications, that "Chief Wadsworth may not be charged with violation of an oath he never took."

Hart responded: "To say that he gets off of a charge because ethics don't apply to him, based on his age, is unacceptable and...would set a very difficult precedent for POST going forward." Chester's argument suggests that the code of ethics shouldn't apply to any Montana officer certified before 2008.

Hart said that Wadsworth is guilty of "multiple, multiple falsities," and that there were "so many lies and problems that piled on top of each other that it was truly overwhelming."

Those falsities affected a different POST case against former Lake County Undersheriff Karey Reynolds, who was accused of committing perjury. To be eligible for undersheriff, Reynolds couldn't have a break in his law enforcement service exceeding three years. Wadsworth provided documentation showing that Reynolds had worked for him. Then-POST Director Ternes decided that Wadsworth's history of falsifying documents justified further investigation into Reynolds' work history. POST couldn't verify Reynolds' record and ordered him to go back to basic training.

It was suspected that Reynolds perjured himself on a search warrant affidavit he signed that claimed he had "20 years prior law enforcement experience." Assistant Attorney General Brant Light, in a May 2012 letter to Lake County Attorney Mitch Young, wrote, "It is clear that Karey Reynolds did not have 20 years of law enforcement experience," and his statement in the affidavit "was in fact false or misleading." But because the statement was immaterial to the case—the judge said she would have granted the search warrant regardless—Light believed Reynolds could not be charged with perjury.

POST dismissed its case against Reynolds in December 2012. He had already resigned from the Lake County Sheriff's Office, in January 2012.

At the Montana Law Enforcement Academy last week, Dan Wadsworth fidgeted as POST Council deliberated over how to punish him. Sarah Hart had recommended a 15-year suspension of all of his law enforcement certifications. Wadsworth is 55 years old, and such a lengthy suspension would be "tantamount to de facto revocation," as Chester had said.

The council voted unanimously to suspend Wadsworth for 15 years. After the vote, Wadsworth stood up and told the council, "I appreciate what you folks do."


•••

As POST proceeded through its cases against the seven officers, a separate civil case was filed in February 2012 in federal court in Missoula. The plaintiffs—former Lake County Sheriff's officers Terry Leonard, Mike Gehl and Steve Kendley, and current officers Levi Read and Ben Woods—accuse Sheriff Jay Doyle, Undersheriff Dan Yonkin, Lt. Mike Sargeant and former Sgt. Dan Duryee of organized crime.

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants "have formed and continue to operate an organization of officers the purpose of which is to engage in illegal activities and the covering up of such illegal activities by retaliation against officers who 'don't go along' with this group." By "acting in concert and with criminal purpose," the defendants violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, the plaintiffs argue.

click to enlarge Lake County Sheriff Jay Doyle
  • Lake County Sheriff Jay Doyle

The retaliations, including demotions and dismissals, resulted from the plaintiffs' attempts, they claim, to expose allegations of misconduct by their colleagues.

Leonard, after former Sheriff Lucky Larson let him go before the end of his first year as a deputy, anonymously launched Concerned Citizens of Lake County and created two websites calling attention to the allegations ahead of the 2010 election that would determine the next sheriff. Jay Doyle, who went on to win that election, filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices alleging that Leonard's website violated election laws and defamed Doyle. Lake County Attorney Mitch Young obtained a search warrant for Leonard's residence. In October 2010, Leonard's former colleagues raided his home and seized his computers. More than a year later, Leonard was exonerated of violating election laws.

When Leonard graduated last year from the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, his peers elected him as their class representative, honoring him with the Don Williams Award. Leonard also earned the Joe May Leadership Award. After Leonard graduated, the Pondera County Sheriff's Office hired him as a deputy. Last month, the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association presented Leonard with its "Lifesaver Award." In September 2012, Leonard, with the help of an off-duty firefighter from Phoenix, used a tire iron to pull a man from a crumpled vehicle engulfed in flames.

Leonard and his fellow plaintiffs will not likely see their federal case go to trial. On July 9, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch recommended dismissal. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen is expected to make the final decision in the coming weeks.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Rich Buley of Missoula, says it's difficult to prove organized crime, but his clients had no other course of action.

"In fact," he says, "we knew going in that almost never does anyone succeed in either getting to trial or winning...But since there really isn't any state remedy other than appealing to the attorney general to do something, that's what we had to try."


See also:
It's not over: Lawsuit naming Indy awaits resolution
The "To serve and deflect" companion reader


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