By Myers Reece, 6-11-12
The Montana Attorney General’s Office has found that three separate allegations of illegal activity by current and former members of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, including the sheriff, have insufficient evidence for prosecution.
Assistant Attorney General Brant Light issued three conclusions on May 31 following investigations by the state Department of Justice’s division of criminal investigation. The conclusions were sent to Lake County Attorney Mitch Young.
There are still a number of open ongoing investigations into multiple Lake County law enforcement agencies by the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council (POST), as well as a multi-year poaching investigation conducted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
As of April, there were at least seven current and former officers spread out across four different Lake County departments facing POST hearings for alleged misconduct. The hearings could lead to the revocation of the officers’ law certifications. The investigations were the subject of an April 20 Law and Justice Interim Committee hearing in Helena.
Sheriff Jay Doyle issued a statement on June 11 in response to the attorney general office’s findings.
“I am simultaneously pleased that the Montana Attorney General’s Office has responded so clearly to these unfounded allegations and disappointed on behalf of taxpayers at how much public funds, employee time and other resources were diverted away from public safety and, instead, wasted on dealing with unfounded, unsustained allegations,” Doyle said.
The Department of Justice announced it could not prove that former Deputy Patrick O’Connor illegally accessed Deputy Ben Woods’ computer and copied his files, as Woods had alleged. Light wrote that investigators ran into multiple “difficulties/obstacles,” including the 14-month window in which the crimes allegedly occurred and Woods’ conduct.
Woods “surreptitiously recorded” Sheriff Doyle and Lt. Mike Sargeant on two separate occasions, according to Light’s conclusion. After speaking with Doyle, Light determined no charges would be filed against Woods for privacy in communications, “but that the matter should be handled administratively by the Sheriff’s Office.”
“However, I would strongly recommend that the illegal recording of conversations by Deputy Ben Woods be reported to POST for their review,” Light wrote.
The DOJ also found no merit to Deputy Steve Kendley’s allegation that Doyle and former Undersheriff Karey Reynolds committed obstruction of justice. Kendley alleged that Doyle instructed another deputy not to investigate an unmentioned incident that took place at Ronan’s K. William Harvey Elementary School. Kendley’s allegation was based on conversations with Deputy Jay Gillhouse, Light said.
“DCI interviewed Deputy Gillhouse and while the Deputy felt there should have been more investigation into the incident,” Light wrote, “he admitted that the Sheriff did not obstruct the investigation and that he had overreacted.”
Lastly, the attorney general’s office ruled that prosecuting Reynolds for perjury was unwarranted, though it determined that Reynolds did provide “false or misleading” information about his law enforcement experience in an affidavit for a search warrant.
But in his conclusion, Light wrote that to qualify as perjury a false statement must be “material.” A statement is material “if it could have affected the course or outcome of the proceeding,” which it did not in Reynolds’ case, according to Light. The warrant, according to the investigation, would have been issued regardless.
“Most important,” Light wrote, “the Search Warrant was never served because the defendant consented to the search.”
Deputy Mike Gehl made the perjury allegation, according to the sheriff’s office. Sargeant and Reynolds are among the seven current and former officers to have received revocation notices and face POST hearings.
Gehl, Kendley and Woods are three of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against Doyle, Sargeant, Sgt. Dan Duryee and Undersheriff Dan Yonkin. The other two plaintiffs are Deputy Levi Read and former Deputy Terry Leonard.
The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of retaliating against them because of their efforts to expose corruption within the department.
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