BILLINGS — The West Yellowstone town council fired its police chief after a state investigation found he selectively enforced the law, violated court orders and in some cases either did not know or chose not to follow the law.
Town council members on Monday confirmed a recommendation for the town’s operation manager to end Chief Gordon Berger’s employment immediately, Mayor Brad Schmier told The Billings Gazette.
Berger had been West Yellowstone’s police chief since 2006 and had been with the department for 28 years. No one immediately returned a phone message The Associated Press left Tuesday at a listing for Berger in West Yellowstone.
In June, Berger told the council that many of the problems in his department stemmed from the challenges of policing a remote, small town, and they were not caused by leadership issues.
The council’s decision, along with recent turnover, leaves the town with two active police officers. Town council member Greg Forsythe said the Gallatin County sheriff’s office is helping to cover shifts.
Sheriff Brian Gootkin began looking into the department last fall after the National Park Service suspended its mutual aid agreement with West Yellowstone police, citing a lack of training and safety concerns. Gootkin criticized Berger for a lack of training and oversight of the department and recommended the state investigation.
The investigation by the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation recommended that criminal charges be filed against Berger. County Attorney Marty Lambert didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on whether any charges had been filed.
A judge allowed the town attorney to release a summary of the state investigation, which found evidence that Berger selectively enforced certain laws and told officers and others not to issue citations to certain people.
The state determined that Berger several times did not know the law or chose not to enforce it in domestic assault and DUI cases and that he did not follow court orders when defendants were sentenced to jail or drug testing. Investigators also found that Berger at least twice helped people get Montana car titles for vehicles reported stolen in Idaho and that he failed to check the vehicle identification number.
Montana also uncovered “substantial” evidence that Berger did not follow laws on sales of town property and abandoned vehicles, that he has requested K-9 searches of cars without probable cause and that he came in contact with a felon in illegal possession of a gun and did not seize the gun, arrest the felon or complete an investigative file. The person was later arrested and charged in Idaho.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.