On Podcasts, Local Media, And The Value Of A Closer Look

by William Skink

I finally finished the Project 7 podcast about David Earl Burgert, the mentally ill militia leader who shot at Sheriff Deputies on June 12, 2011, then disappeared into the woods never to be seen again.

Is he alive, or did he take his own life that day out in the woods?

About a month before Burgert shot at Missoula County Sheriff deputies in Lolo, I had a confrontation with him at the Poverello Center. My experience with Burgert is featured on episode 5.

Also on that episode is my former co-worker at the Pov, Patrick Duganz. I had completely forgotten that Duganz had a run-in with Burgert as well around the same time I did.

I went poking around the old blog space at 4&20 Blackbirds and found this post from two days after Burgert disappeared.

The comment thread on that post is especially interesting. Larry Kralj, posting as “Pogue Mahone”, takes the odd position of defending Burgert and trying to depict law enforcement as harassing him.

I spoke with Duganz recently about all this. The run-in with Burgert, along with another incident the previous summer in which our co-worker was stabbed by a client, motivated Duganz to consider other employment opportunities.

I stayed on for another 5 years and piled on more difficult experiences, like helping the Sheriff’s Department identify the killer of Gilbert Barry, a transient who was tortured and shot in the head, then dumped in the river by the Reserve Street bridge.

Though I no longer work at the Poverello Center, I am still interested in what goes on there. When an altercation led to the death of Sean Stevenson at the beginning of this year, I took notice and paid close attention.

The man responsible for the death of Sean Stevenson, Johnny Lee Perry, is not going to be charged with any crime related to Stevenson’s death. This was only reported a few days ago by NBC Montana, five months after Stevenson was killed at the homeless shelter:

Missoula County prosecutors confirmed Monday they will not file charges after a fight in January at the Poverello Center.

Officers arrested Johnny Lee Perry, 29, after witnesses reported he’d strangled another Poverello client inside the shelter.

Emergency crews rushed Sean Stevenson, 45, to the hospital after the fight. Stevenson later died.

Perry claimed self-defense, and prosecutors told us they found ample evidence Perry used “justifiable force.”

While it’s taken nearly half a year for the County Attorney’s office to determine Perry used “justifiable force” to kill Sean Stevenson at the Poverello Center, it only took a few days for Missoulian editor Gwen Florio to write this disgusting, self-congratulatory piece about how amazingly they humanized Sean’s death. Florio even titled the piece The Value of a Closer Look, and opens with a cynical description of how these kind of news stories are normally covered by corporate media:

It could have been “just” another police story. A fight at the Poverello Center, Missoula’s shelter for homeless people. One man dead. Another man arrested, briefly held, then released without charges after witnesses are questioned.

And that’s where a lot of stories, and especially stories involving violence among the less fortunate, end — with a short recitation of the facts, to the extent that they’re known, and then a collective shrug as the news cycle rolls on.

Florio is setting up her audience to be amazed and dazzled that her reporters didn’t callously shrug at the violent death of a “less fortunate” among us. So what did these amazing reporters do?

Last week, reporters Seaborn Larson and Paul Hamby hit the pause button. Law enforcement had released the victim’s name and age — Sean Stevenson, 45 — but that was it. But Larson and Hamby kept asking questions, not just about Stevenson, but about the other clients of the Pov, and also the people who work there.

Sunday’s paper carried two stories that stemmed from their reporting. Hamby found friends and family who helped put a face and a personality to Stevenson — and a “dazzling” personality at that, according to his friend, Janice Gordon.

She said that Stevenson was saving to be able to afford to move into his own place; that he had a job. As Larson reported, that made him like some 40% of the Pov’s residents. In addition to countering stereotypes about the Pov’s clients, Larson’s story took a broader and deeper look at the challenges faced in providing services to the homeless.

I am not sure why I am supposed to be amazed that reporters are doing the jobs they are being paid to do. And I am also not sure why this editor thinks she can take a victory lap when there’s been virtually no follow up by the Missoulian on this case since this piece posted in January.

Here’s more self-congratulation from Florio:

It’s easy to look away from these issues. Instead, Larson and Hamby tackled them head-on, and Missoulian readers are better informed as a result.

Stevenson’s death, so soon into the New Year, was a tragedy. But at least it didn’t go unnoticed.

As always, thanks for supporting local news.

Wow. A newspaper editor is gushing over the fact they “noticed” a homeless man was killed by another homeless man at a homeless shelter in the community the newspaper covers. Do you want a fucking Pulitzer, Gwen?

There hasn’t been any coverage from the Missoulian since January that I can find about this case. They didn’t report anything in March, when investigators turned the case over the County Attorney’s office, and they didn’t report that the County Attorney’s has now determined Perry used “justifiable force” when he killed Sean Stevenson.

There is a lot more to this story that has not been reported by any formal media outlets yet. When the time is right, readers of this blog will be informed about serious, lingering questions that need answers.

Stay tuned…

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
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On Podcasts, Local Media, And The Value Of A Closer Look

  1. Robert Quinn says:

    Why isn’t the time right now? I’m sure the people that knew Sean would like answers sooner rather than later, and that “stay tuned” is a bit frustrating for them.

  2. TC says:

    I think everyone should compare/contrast Johnny Perry (multiple offender/murderer) vs Brandon Bryant (veteran/critic of City Gov). One murdered another man in a public space and didnt spend a day in jail or answer for his crime. One spoke out therapeutically on a private website to address PTSD. He also called out City Gov. For that offense he spend weeks in jail w/a $100K bail (full disclosure – I contributed to his bail fund). But he remained in jail for having the temerity to question the powers that be.
    A man murdered an unfortunate/another man spoke truth to power. The repercussions are apparent. The good Liberals (Engen, Von Lossberg, Jones, etc) are good with one but not the other.
    Wake Up!!!

Leave a Reply