What’s Going On With Missoula’s Sheriff’s Department?

by William Skink

In the Indy’s Etc. column this week a parenthetical comment indicates the Indy hasn’t found the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department to be forthright in providing information.

For the record, “following” minor celebrities is near the bottom of local newsrooms’ real-news priorities. They’re preoccupied with other battles, like wrestling for access to public information (looking at you, Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, and you, UM Foundation). Readers who prefer fake news have no shortage of options.

So what’s going on? For some interesting insight, here’s Josh Clark–who is challenging the Sheriff once again for Sheriff–in a Facebook post:

Protection and Special Treatment for Sheriff McDermott supporters, Retaliation for Josh Clark supporters.

Commissioners Jean Curtiss, Nicole Rowley, and Dave Strohmaier, you have a huge problem in the Sheriff’s Office. Pay attention and do something about it.
This month is the 5 month anniversary of Deputy Hartsell abusing a prisoner in his custody. For 5 months there has been no transparency from Sheriff McDermott. Deputy Hartsell has been on medical leave. Was Deputy Hartsell ever placed on administrative leave pending an investigation? Probably not. Why wasn’t this investigated immediately after other deputies completed internal complaints and turned them over to Patrol Captain Bill Burt? This investigation should have been done before Deputy Hartsell was ever allowed to go on medical leave at the end of November 2017. Hartsell continued to work his regular shifts, never being put on administrative leave for a pending investigation. The medical leave referenced in the article was apparently due to an earlier, unrelated shoulder injury. This incident was not assigned by Sheriff McDermott for a sergeants use of force review until early February 2018, 3 months after the incident.

Why are we only hearing about this now? Why did this take so long? After all, Sheriff McDermott bragged that all deputies now had body cameras, according to an interview on January 17, 2018 with Peter Christian for News Talk KGVO. Great, there should be some excellent video and audio of the abuse.

There has been no transparency until today, and that is only in Sheriff McDermott’s classic way. Half truths and only reporting what he thinks we already know. I reported on this on March 12 when I announced my campaign for Missoula County Sheriff and Coroner. If you want a more complete look at what is happening under Sheriff McDermott’s watch, please read the articles at joshclarkforsheriff.com or follow me on Facebook at Josh Clark for Sheriff.

Commissioners Jean Curtiss, Cola Rowley, and Dave Strohmeier, 4 years ago, I and my supporters warned you about what Sheriff McDermott and his special deputy supporters were saying they would do. There is even an email series between then Captain Mike Dominick and Human Resource Director Patty Baumgart and then C.O.O Steve Johnson. In that email Dominick warns that McDermott supporters were saying they were going to hire back Doug Hartsell and that would be a negligent hire. Dominick also predicted retaliation against himself and other of my supporters. That email is from August 5 and 6, 2014. Hartsell was hired back to the Sheriff’s Office by Sheriff McDermott on June 13, 2016. I guess the Sheriff wanted to wait long enough to let things quiet down after the 2014 Sheriff election.

The lack of accountability, transparency, and expediency of justice is disgusting. Why is that? Well, we need to remember Doug Hartsell was a friend and campaign supporter of Sheriff McDermott. Doug Hartsell contributed to McDermott’s campaign. Doug Hartsell even drove then candidate McDermott down the parade route in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in March 2014. See attached picture.

Now I would like you to compare Hartsell’s treatment and investigation for abusing a prisoner to that of a Deputy Sergeant that is being accused of allegedly disrupting a training class. This Sergeant, who supported my 2014 campaign, was put on administrative leave with pay, over 2 weeks ago. And then the inquisition started and was headed by Undersheriff Rich Maricelli and Captain Tony Rio Sr.

This all started in the last month or so, when Missoula County and the Sheriff’s Office brought in special meditation and breathing training from The Learning Center at Red Willow. This training was voluntary for the County employees at large, but then a special training session was brought in for the Sheriff’s Office and made mandatory for deputies. So this meditation and breathing class which is best in small groups or one on one, was made mandatory for the deputies in a group of 20 to 30 people. What could go wrong? Not surprisingly, the deputies were not real open to being told, you will meditate and you will deep breath and you will go to your special spiritual place. While this could be invaluable training to help with what deputies deal with on a daily basis, it is not going to work in a large group of cops.

Some deputies asked questions and made statements. Some deputies gave honest “anonymous” reviews of the class. The instructor from Red Willow, who is an Air Force veteran, was hurt by the reviews and the deputies lack of acceptance. Apparently this instructor has never taught a group of cops. The instructor was so hurt, that he said he would not teach the next class of deputies. This infuriated the Sheriff’s Office administration and led to the inquisition by Maricelli and Rio Sr.

Why is this internal investigation being done by Undersheriff Maricelli and Captain Tony Rio Sr. Why is this not being done by Detective Captain Conway? Conway is the one that has been doing internal investigations as recently as Deputy Leonard’s sexual harassment investigation in February. Why is a simple, potential discipline matter taking so long? Are there deeper motives to this investigation? If this is a valid investigation it should not take this long and should not have the taxpayers paying a deputy not to work for over 2 weeks. This is ridiculous.

Remember Captain Tony Rio Sr. was made Professional Standards Captain (internal affairs) after he was promoted to Captain by Sheriff McDermott January 1st, 2015. That didn’t last long though since Sheriff McDermott realized he may not be the best choice for that position. Tony Rio Sr. was also the same newly minted captain that shot an unarmed man, a few minutes after midnight January 1st, 2015. Every deputy that I have talked to that has seen the video of the shooting says it was questionable. Why hasn’t the public seen the video?

Captain Tony Rio Sr. is also the deputy that rammed and totaled his patrol car at the end of a pursuit and then appeared to try to shoot the unarmed suspects but thankfully Rio had a pistol malfunction. That was in November 2016. I have seen that video. That pursuit was over. The suspect was disabled. That was excessive force. I am now hearing, as of last week, that the County Attorney’s Office is requesting that video, but the Sheriff’s Office cannot find it. Really?

At the very least, Captain Tony Rio Sr., should not be involved in this investigation, since his son, Tony Rio Jr. was in the same class and created distractions and was disruptive himself. And yes, Tony Rio Jr. is a deputy. But Tony Rio Jr. is not being investigated for his disruptive behavior by Undersheriff Maricelli or his dad, Captain Tony Rio Sr. Why is Tony Rio Sr. doing this investigation? Is it payback for the deputy sergeant supporting my campaign in 2014?

Undersheriff Maricelli probably isn’t the right person to do this investigation either. Because Undersheriff Maricelli’s wife is one of the instructors that teaches this type of training at The Learning Center at Red Willow. Is there a conflict of interest here? How much did the County and the Sheriff’s Office pay Red Willow? At the very least, Maricelli should be bright enough not be involved in the investigation because it doesn’t look right. Does Undersheriff Maricelli’s wife get paid by Red Willow? She probably isn’t doing this type of work for free but I don’t know. It sure sounds like the County and the Sheriff’s Office is paying Red Willow, and what Red Willow does with that money is up to them. But it does not look right.

I will say to the instructor of this class, if you are having hurt and sad feelings over not being accepted by a group of cops, buck up. These men and women see horrific things every day. They protect themselves by not opening up and not risking more hurt. To demand them to open up in a large group is ridiculous, and when they don’t, for you to have hurt feelings and then complain on the people you are suppose to be helping. Well, all I can say is you probably shouldn’t be doing this type training. You probably don’t even understand what you have done. You have potentially ruined people’s careers because of your unprofessional and naive behavior.

What is the difference between these two “investigations”? Hartsell supported Sheriff McDermott and the deputy sergeant made the mistake of supporting Josh Clark in the last election.

Commissioners Jean Curtiss, Cola Rowley, and Dave Strohmeier, this is on you. You are letting the Sheriff’s administration ride rough shod over your employees, but only if the employees did not support McDermott. While at the same time, you are allowing Sheriff McDermott to drag his feet on abuse by his deputies, if they are friends and supporters. Make it stop. You might be able to prevent further lawsuits! Do what is right for the County. NOW!

Demand change. Vote Josh Clark for Sheriff/Coroner.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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