Perhaps nothing exemplifies a sheriff’s wide-ranging menu of responsibilities better than the phone calls Chuck Curry was fielding last Thursday afternoon.
One set of calls was about an errant gate down at the county impound lot that just wouldn’t stay shut. The other set of calls was about an upcoming meeting with the U.S. Secret Service to prepare for a visit by the vice president of the United States. Curry — who has been with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office off and on since 1978 and was elected sheriff in 2010 — said the calls never stop and come at all hours of the day.
But Curry’s phone will be noticeably quiet beginning Jan. 1, when Brian Heino takes over as Flathead County’s top lawman. And Curry is not the only one leaving the sheriff’s office; Undersheriff Dave Leib retired on Nov. 2 after nearly three decades with the department. Curry said, however, that the sheriff’s office is in good hands with Heino — who won the Republican primary in June and was unopposed in the general — at the helm.
“There is a lot of institutional knowledge that is leaving with Dave and I,” Curry said. “But a lot of this job is having the right mindset, caring about the organization and keeping public safety at the forefront of your decisions, and I know Brian will do that.”
Curry was raised in the Flathead Valley and first joined the sheriff’s office in 1978 as a reserve officer when he was 18. Curry went to school for a few years and did odd jobs, including working on an oil rig, bartending and selling clothing, before deciding to join the sheriff’s office full-time. He was hired as a deputy in March 1980.
“It seemed like an exciting job and it wasn’t a desk job. Every day was different,” Curry said. “On the first day, the sheriff gave me a badge, the keys to a car and said, ‘Don’t kill anyone.’”
In 1980, Flathead County was considerably different, smaller and more rural, Curry said. Curry spent much of the 1980s as a deputy and eventually became a corporal. In 1991, Sheriff Jim Dupont appointed Curry as undersheriff. Curry remained in that position until the mid-2000s, when he retired after 25 years with the department. For the next few years, Curry worked as chief flight paramedic for A.L.E.R.T., which he had done on a part-time basis since the 1980s.
But Curry couldn’t stay away from law enforcement for long and in 2010 decided to run against incumbent Sheriff Mike Meehan. Curry won the Republican primary and, because there was no Democratic challenger, took office on Jan. 1, 2011. Curry won reelection in 2014.
Earlier this year, Curry decided he would retire and not run for reelection. A few months ago, Leib, who has been undersheriff since 2012, decided that he too would retire.
Leib first came to the sheriff’s office in 1990 and spent 15 years on patrol before becoming patrol commander in 2007. He was promoted to undersheriff when Jordan White left the office in 2012. Leib said there are many things that he will miss about working at the sheriff’s office, most notably the people, but also the chance to have an impact on people’s lives during their lowest moments.
On his last day on Nov. 2, Leib said he wasn’t exactly sure what he would do the following day.
“I think I might take it easy,” he said. “Maybe do a little hunting.”
Leib doesn’t plan on being idle, however, as he has already lined up general contracting and snow plowing work with a good friend, something a little less stressful than helping run the area’s largest law enforcement agency.
Curry said he plans on staying involved in the local search and rescue team, Two Bear Air and the dive team. He also hopes to spend a little more time pursuing his hobbies, including snowmobiling, boating, motorcycling and flying (he got his pilot’s license back in 2003 and owns a small plane). The one thing Curry has ruled out entirely is running for public office again.
After eight years as the county’s top lawman, Curry said he has few regrets about his time as sheriff, and he hopes the public agrees that he ran an operation that consistently responded to the community’s needs.
Curry said that while he believes Heino is ready to take the reins, the new sheriff will face challenges, the biggest of which is staffing. Curry said every year the sheriff’s office is asked to do more with less, and that trend is not going to change anytime soon.
Heino said both Curry and Leib will be missed.
“It’s hard for any organization to lose that type of experience,” Heino said. “In law enforcement you learn a lot from each other, and I’ve learned so much from both of those guys.”
With Leib’s departure on Nov. 2, Heino has now taken on the responsibilities of undersheriff, which Curry said would help his replacement get up to speed on the daily happenings of the office before he takes over on Jan. 1. Curry already has plans for his New Year’s Day.
“I’m sleeping in,” he said. “After midnight Dec. 31, the phone won’t be ringing anymore, which will be a first in a very long time.”