Complaint Details Claims Against Former Highway Patrol Chief

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — A state trooper claims former Montana Highway Patrol chief Kenton Hickethier passed him over for promotions after he complained that Hickethier sexually harassed women and made a racist comment at a training conference, according to a complaint released by the state Wednesday.

The complaint to the Department of Labor’s Human Rights Bureau was filed in July by Trooper Glenn Quinnell of Glendive. It includes allegations that Hickethier sexually harassed women at the 2011 law enforcement conference in Phoenix and made a racist comment about Quinnell having dinner with at a black trooper from another state, despite knowing Quinnell had black relatives.

Quinnell also claims Hickethier told him at the conference to arrest people who might be in the country illegally, regardless of whether their alleged offenses were supported by facts.

When Quinnell and others said they would not violate a person’s civil rights, Hickethier “focused on me and said I would or I would be done,” the complaint said. “I understood this to be a threat to fire me if I did not make illegal arrests.”

The Great Falls Tribune first reported Quinnell’s complaint on Wednesday.

Hickethier, who became patrol chief in January, announced his retirement on Aug. 30, shortly after the state Department of Justice discovered reprimands in his file from his superiors as it prepared a response to Quinnell’s Human Rights Bureau complaint.

Both reprimands alleged Hickethier violated a department policy that requires officers to treat supervisors, subordinates and associates with respect and courtesy.

Hickethier does not have a phone listing in Helena and could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press. The Tribune said it could not reach Quinnell’s attorney for comment.

The complaint says Quinnell reported Hickethier’s conduct to his superior officers. Quinnell said he was told the conduct would be investigated, and he was not aware of Hickethier’s previous reprimands.

Quinnell said Hickethier called him at home and told him to “forgive and forget” while his 2011 complaint was being investigated.

After Quinnell reported Hickethier’s 2011 comments, 11 sergeants were promoted and Quinnell was passed over for promotions for which he said he was qualified. Quinnell said he was passed over for two more promotions after Hickethier became patrol chief in January.

Quinnell is an eight-year veteran of the Highway Patrol and has been its named officer of the year, and narcotics officer of the year by the Department of Justice and the Montana Narcotics Officers Association, he said.

In the complaint, Quinnell said the state continued to “tolerate, ratify and encourage Hickethier’s discriminatory conduct” which led to retaliation against the trooper.

The complaint seeks unspecified compensation from the state for mental and emotional distress and lost compensation for being passed over for promotions. It also seeks attorney’s fees.

The Human Rights Bureau’s investigation into the complaint is ongoing, staff attorney Tim Little said.