Crime

Charges Filed After Drunken Crash Involving Two Flathead Valley Cops

Former Kalispell Police Department sergeant was allegedly ‘trashed’ when he slammed into an unmarked Flathead County Sheriff’s vehicle; FCSO sergeant disciplined for his role in incident

By Andy Viano
A Flathead County Sheriff's Office vehicle. Beacon file photo

A retired Kalispell Police Department sergeant has been charged and a sergeant with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office has been disciplined after the two men were involved in a violent crash in late November, not long after they were both drinking at a Kalispell brewery.

Anthony John McDonnell, who retired from the Kalispell Police Department (KPD) in 2015 after an 18-year career, was charged March 19 in Flathead County District Court with one count of felony criminal endangerment and misdemeanor aggravated driving under the influence. A summons was issued for McDonnell to appear in Flathead County District Court for an initial appearance on April 22. A warrant was not issued for his arrest and he is not in custody.

The charges come nearly four months after a night of drinking on Nov. 29 ended with McDonnell slamming his truck into another vehicle at an estimated 50 miles per hour on Farm to Market Road in Kalispell. The other vehicle, an unmarked Chrysler 300 owned by the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, was being driven by Sgt. Logan Shawback, who had been at the same brewery as McDonnell and at least one other law enforcement officer for several hours that evening, according to charging documents.

Court filings go into detail on the events of Nov. 29, beginning that evening at a downtown Kalispell brewery where Shawback was seated with his family and McDonnell was at a separate table. At some point, Kalispell Police Officer Brady Gray arrived at the brewery to meet a friend, who happened to be sitting with McDonnell. Gray described McDonnell as already intoxicated when she arrived and said that a bartender at the brewery had to cut off McDonnell later in the evening because of his level of intoxication. Gray described McDonnell as “trashed” by the end of the night.

Gray said she, McDonnell and Shawback “spent more than three hours together” at the brewery before leaving in separate vehicles. Shortly after everyone left the brewery, at around 10:47 p.m., Shawback was turning right from Farm to Market Road onto Mountain Vista Way when he noticed a truck approaching from behind at a high rate of speed. Shawback attempted to accelerate the turn to avoid a collision but was struck on the passenger side at an estimated 50 miles per hour, which is the posted speed limit on Farm to Market Road. McDonnell, driving a Dodge Ram pickup, then drove over the top of the Chrysler before rolling and taking out a light pole. Portions of the roof and windshield of McDonnell’s Ram were crushed in the accident and McDonnell was immediately taken to the hospital.

Shawback apparently called Gray after the accident to tell her what had happened, and she arrived on the scene before any on-duty law enforcement officers. Gray told investigators that Shawback did not know who had struck him until she informed him, and Shawback did not initially mention to KPD Officer Kyle Enser that he knew McDonnell. McDonnell did not provide a statement at the scene of the crash because of the severity of his injuries.

Enser and another KPD officer, Brad Scheffler, were told to “investigate the crash as they would any other matter” by fellow officers on the scene who knew McDonnell. The pair later obtained a blood sample from McDonnell and it revealed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.259%, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08%.

Shawback was not administered any test to measure his blood alcohol concentration until two hours after the accident occurred because there was “no indication he was intoxicated,” according to Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino. When Shawback was tested it revealed alcohol in his system but at a level below the legal limit. At the time of the accident, Shawback was working in an “undercover capacity,” Heino said, and drinking alcohol while working in that capacity was a violation of department policy. As a result, Shawback was placed on a brief unpaid administrative leave by the department and punitive “major disciplinary” action was taken. That action included removing Shawback from the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force and disqualifying him from any specialized unit, which Heino described as a de facto pay cut. Shawback has since returned to work.

Montana Assistant Attorney General Chad Parker is prosecuting the case after it was referred to the Attorney General’s Office by Kalispell City Attorney Charlie Harball to avoid any possible conflict of interest. Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner said his office was not notified of the incident by local law enforcement and that he did not find out about the accident until a reporter questioned him more than a month after the crash. He said that while he had no issue with the case being referred to the state Attorney General’s Office, the lack of communication between law enforcement and his office was disappointing.

“Anytime we’re dealing with county employees or have an incident of this nature … it is important that our office knows about this so we can double-check to make sure there are no issues, so that the public has full faith and confidence that everything’s being handled in an appropriate fashion,” Ahner said in an interview on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the Flathead County Attorney’s Office did have an opportunity to investigate law enforcement’s handling of the incident and determined that the criminal aspects of the case were properly sent to the Attorney General’s Office in a timely fashion, that employee misconduct was “handled according to standard procedures,” and that the offices involved appropriately referred the investigation to outside agencies, according to a March 11 letter provided to the Beacon. Ahner added that he could make no determination on whether discipline was warranted for anyone accused of misconduct or what punishment should be applied. The letter goes on to say that the agencies involved have discussed ways to “improve communication” in the future.

The Whitefish Police Department led the investigation into Shawback’s misconduct, according to Heino. The Montana Highway Patrol took over the investigation into the crash itself after McDonnell was identified as a former KPD employee.

Kalispell Chief of Police Doug Overman was out of the office and unavailable to comment for this story.

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