by Travis Mateer
During this past week there was more than one moment where I felt like I had entered the twilight zone, but the multiple calls I made to the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department provided some of the strangest WTF jolts of disbelief for me, and that’s saying something.
The title of this post is both a reference to the Rebekah Barsotti missing person case AND a very real question I now have after confirming two things on Monday, February 28th: Sheriff Mike Toth was in St. Pats hospital (room 440) and the person who answered the phone at the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department (Lisa) had no clue.
Now, one person not knowing that the Sheriff is in the hospital, even if it IS the person answering the phone at the Sheriff’s Dept, isn’t necessarily outlandish. But it wasn’t just one person on one day not knowing. That Monday I also texted Monte Turner, who works at the Clark Fork Valley Press, and he was similarly unaware. I asked him who would take over for Sheriff Toth if he was unable to exercise his duties, and Monte told me it would be Wayne Cashman.
I called the Sheriff’s office AGAIN on Tuesday. This time the woman I spoke with was immediately defensive and refused to confirm what I had ALREADY CONFIRMED by calling St. Pats directly on Monday. WTF?
The timing of Sheriff Toth being out of commission gets even more curious when you know, like I do, that out-of-state search and rescue professionals are back on the Clark Fork river looking for Rebekah Barsotti who, if you didn’t know, was last seen at a Town Pump in Mineral County on July 20th. Since that time Sheriff Toth has exemplified how NOT to handle a case like this.
As the week provided other twilight zone moments, I put Toth on my back burner. Then I heard he was STILL in the hospital at the end of the week.
Was this Sheriff (who is up for reelection, by the way, running against Sheriff Deputy Ryan Funke) about to kick the bucket?
On Saturday I decided to go to St. Pats to see what I could find out, but by then Sheriff Toth had finally been discharged. I made one more futile call to the Sheriffs Department, and this time a man answered. Unlike the second woman, who seemed to know something behind her curt denials, this dude’s obliviousness seemed genuine. Which genuinely baffles to me.
Does this guy actually RUN the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department?
For a little context on Sheriff Toth, the Clark Fork Valley Press did take some note of who their Sheriff is, like in this profile piece written by Monte Turner two months before Rebekah Barsotti went missing. Here’s Toth telling the part of his story where “tinsel town” momentarily distracted him from his law enforcement career:
Being raised in Billings and graduating from Skyview High School, Mineral County Sheriff Mike Toth knew all along that he wanted to be in law enforcement.
“That was the plan since I was a little kid. Then later on, one of my older brothers’ friends became a police officer in Billings and I looked up to him and it kept going.”
After high school he even dabbled with Tinsel Town.
“I worked on the movie set of Far and Away. Thomas Gibson, who played the villain, came into a clothing store I worked at and we had a friendly visit as he purchased cowboy boots. Three days later someone came into the store and said, ‘Whose Mike’? And they pointed me out. ‘Would you like a job on the set? Mr. Gibson said to hire you.’ It was a blast as I got to meet Tom Cruise and Ron Howard and the experience was very exciting. That was the only career that kind of distracted me from my pursuit of a career in law enforcement thinking that this would be fun to do for a living, but it wasn’t the driving force that law enforcement was.”
If elements of this story weren’t so unbelievable, I’d consider reaching out to Tinsel Town myself to pitch this craziness, but Twin Peaks has already been made, and this drama is impacting REAL lives.
If Sheriff Toth is back on the job this week, I hope he takes that job seriously, because there are some seriously problematic data points accumulating.
To wrap up this post, here’s the man himself describing how Seattle policing opened his eyes, and what that means for the citizens of Mineral County.
“Within my second or third week being there, my training officer shot and killed a guy in front of me. ‘Wow! I’ve made it to the big show’, I thought. We drew our weapons a lot out there and the culture of carrying personal weapons or firearms is totally different from Montana.”
However, the SPD is big on community policing and very transparent on how officers and complaints are handled.
“I’m trying to bring that here and people will see that we are posting much more on Facebook. I try to take the time to meet with people who come to talk to me face to face. I take phone calls all day, every day and I want people to know who is working for them and that our entire department from deputies to jailers to dispatch are here to serve them. This is my home and being their sheriff is an honor and I want to remain right where I am.”
And where the fuck is that, Sheriff Toth?