By Matthew Frank
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." More....