Seven current and former law enforcement officers spread out across four departments in Lake County could lose their law certification as the result of multiple state investigations into allegedly illegal and unethical behavior throughout the county’s law enforcement community.
Meanwhile, the legislative Law and Justice Interim Committee is holding a hearing in Helena on Friday to look into the Lake County investigations, though the committee’s chairman, Sen. Jim Shockley, said two of the investigating state agencies invited to attend the hearing – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Justice – have indicated they won’t participate, a decision he believes is improper and makes him “suspicious that we stumbled on something big.”
Five members of three Lake County law enforcement departments recently received law certification revocation notices from the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council (POST). The officers were Polson Police Chief Wade Nash and Officer Cory Anderson; Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Officer Jason Nash; former Lake County Undersheriff Karey Reynolds and Sheriff’s Lieutenant Mike Sargeant.
On Monday, Nash, the Polson chief of police, said he is accused of failing to speak with FWP during an investigation and tampering with a witness. He said the notice informed him that his law certification could be suspended or revoked but didn’t give a hearing date. Nash said he has 30 days to respond, which he will do. He plans to get an attorney.
The nature of the allegations against the other four officers is unknown.
“I’m looking forward to a hearing,” Nash said. “I would welcome it.”
The revocation notices were first reported by the Missoula Independent and then confirmed by an officer earlier this week. Emails and phone calls to officials at POST were not returned before the Beacon went to press on Monday.
The five current and former officers are now expected to face hearings before the POST council to decide if they will be reprimanded. The council could suspend or permanently revoke the officers’ certification, or dismiss the cases and take no action at all.
They join Sergeant Dan Duryee of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Ronan Police Chief Dan Wadsworth, who were previously served notices and also face revocation hearings. Clay Coker, a POST compliance officer, confirmed their hearings in a December Beacon story.
The seven revocation notices are the result of investigations conducted by POST, the quasi-judicial state board that essentially polices the police in Montana. In the last two years, POST has opened no fewer than a dozen investigations into allegedly improper behavior by various Lake County officers, according to past interviews with POST officials.
In December, both the executive director and a longtime board member of POST said they had never seen such a high number of allegations of wrongdoing lodged against a single county’s law enforcement community.
The Law and Justice Interim Committee’s April 20 hearing stems from a December meeting when Shockley said he wanted to discuss the Lake County situation after seeing news reports of investigations by POST, FWP and the Department of Justice into complaints of illegal and unethical behavior by officers there.
The investigations have raised allegations of years of poaching among officers in multiple Lake County law agencies; one officer gaining unwarranted positions of power based on a false military record; a cover-up pertaining to a boating death; assault on fellow officers and other accusations.
Currently, FWP’s poaching investigation is ongoing, as are two investigations by the Department of Justice into Lake County Sheriff Jay Doyle and Reynolds, the former undersheriff, for obstruction of justice and perjury, respectively. Reynolds resigned in January but said the decision was due to a “restructuring” of the sheriff’s office and not the investigation.
Previous investigations by the state Department of Justice and the federal Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives have been closed.
Shockley said since the Law and Justice Interim Committee monitors law and justice issues in Montana, it has an interest in the investigations – specifically the role of the Department of Justice, over which the committee has oversight.
Shockley said earlier this week his interest isn’t in Lake County law enforcement or the allegations, but rather the justice department’s handling of its investigations and possible accompanying policy issues that could be addressed through the Legislature.
The committee, which consists of six senators and six representatives, asked officials from the justice department, FWP and POST to attend the April 20 hearing. Invitations were extended to Lake County law officials as well. As of earlier this week, only POST officials had indicated they would attend.
Given the committee’s oversight authority and the relationship between the Legislature and state agencies, Shockley said FWP and the justice department “have a responsibility to come” to the hearing and is dismayed that they’re not attending. He said their response leads him to believe the investigations “might be a lot bigger than I thought.”
“By not being transparent they make me suspicious that we stumbled on something big,” Shockley, who is running as a Republican for attorney general, said.
“In my experience, I’ve never had an agency not appear when asked by the Legislature. I’ve never seen it. I’ve never heard of it.”
Department of Justice spokesperson John Doran said on Monday that the department would be submitting a written letter describing its position to the interim legislative committee. An FWP spokesperson wasn’t familiar with the hearing and couldn’t comment on Monday.
In another related matter, five current and former sheriff’s office members have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court accusing four other members of running a “criminal enterprise” and retaliating against them for their efforts to expose corruption within the department.
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