Just days after the Flathead County Attorney dropped a murder charge against a Martin City man, federal prosecutors have accused James William Quen of dealing methamphetamine in a case stemming back to December 2017.
The new accusations come as Flathead County’s new sheriff expresses frustration with County Attorney Travis Ahner’s decision to drop the murder charge against Quen after concluding that he did not have a “viable case” to present to the jury. Quen was accused of shooting and killing 33-year-old Bradley Allen Winters in Hungry Horse in April 2018 and was expected to stand trial this month.
In December, Ahner presented a plea deal in which Quen would have pleaded guilty to an amended felony negligent homicide charge in return for a 10-year suspended sentence. But at the onset of a hearing on Dec. 28, Judge Heidi Ulbricht said she would not accept the recommended sentence, believing it was too lenient in light of Quen’s checkered past, which includes a felony grand theft conviction, assorted violent offenses and a bench-warrant arrest for failing to appear at a court-ordered hearing in a separate felony case. Three days later, Ahner dropped the charge against Quen.
In a statement to the media, Ahner said that although law enforcement had completed a solid investigation into the incident, there were too many holes in the case. Among the biggest issues were that a key witness had gone missing and every other witness at the scene of the shooting was under the influence of methamphetamine. Ulbricht formally dropped charges on Dec. 31.
But Quen never tasted freedom as he was immediately held on a federal detainer and moved to a detention center in Missoula. On Jan. 2, federal prosecutors charged Quen with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
According to charging documents, Quen was purchasing methamphetamine in Oregon and bringing it to Northwest Montana for distribution in 2017. A federal informant said at one point he witnessed Quen in the possession of approximately 10 pounds of methamphetamine.
Sheriff Brian Heino said he is pleased to see that Quen is not back on the street thanks to the federal charges, but he is frustrated with Ahner’s decision to drop the murder charge. Heino said that neither he nor former Sheriff Chuck Curry were advised of Ahner’s decision to drop the case. He said while he understands that it was Ahner’s right to dismiss the charges, he believes a jury should have determined Quen’s fate “rather than one individual in office.”
Curry echoed Heino’s concerns and added that when a county attorney fails to prosecute a case, it’s easy for law enforcement to get discouraged.
“It’s a struggle to keep your people motivated when your cases don’t get prosecuted,” Curry said. “The county attorney should have let a jury decide this case.”
Despite his frustrations, Heino said he still respected Ahner’s decision and that he wouldn’t let disagreements like the one over Quen impact their working relationship.
“He’s going to have his opinions, I’m going to have my opinions and we won’t always see eye to eye,” Heino said. “But we can’t let one case negatively impact the rest of our time working together.”
Ahner was not available for comment on Friday.