Is There A Rural/Urban Divide When It Comes To Local Law Enforcement In Missoula?

by Travis Mateer

While Missoula’s URBAN law enforcement (commonly known as police officers) deal with the non-prosecution difficulties our County Attorney’s Office creates for them on the streets of the CITY, our RURAL law enforcement (commonly known as Sheriff Deputies) handle shit their own way. Is that what happened on Saturday when a robbery suspect was shot and killed?

Here’s a local report on this “officer involved” shooting:

One person, a suspect in a criminal investigation, is dead after an officer-involved shooting.

Lydia Arnold, Public Information Officer with the Missoula Police Department has more details.

“One suspect is deceased and there is no threat to the public after an officer-involved shooting that occurred on (Saturday) August 27,” said Arnold. “The Missoula Police Department responded to several robbery calls in the city limits. The robbery suspect was located by a Missoula County Sheriff’s Office deputy just after 11:30 a.m. on August 27 in the 5700 block of Highway 10 West.”

Arnold said multiple law enforcement agencies are involved in the incident and the ongoing investigation.

“The Missoula Police Department, Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service law enforcement, Missoula Airport police, Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office, and the Montana Highway Patrol were all involved and responded to assist due to the threat to public safety.”

Though it’s difficult to discern from this article, it sounds like city cops were on the trail of this suspect when a Sheriff Deputy found him and shot him. I’m sure we’ll get more accurate details about this case as they become available (yeah, right).

While we wait for that to never happen, I’ll share an anecdotal story that highlights the tension between urban cops and rural deputies.

The Missoula County Courthouse, and the land surrounding it, is like a jurisdictional island in the urban core of Missoula. I discovered this during my tenure working at the Poverello Center with the Homeless Outreach Program. The more closely I worked with CITY cops, the more I realized there was an almost unspoken, dare I say, enjoyment at the thought that COUNTY deputies would have to deal with the chronic homeless clients I was working with.

This was specifically articulated to me during a “HOT” call I responded to years ago. A well-known client, known on the streets as “Bozo”, was passed out near Wordens. When I told the cop my plan to relocate Bozo to the County Courthouse lawn, he said something like “great, let the Sheriff’s Department deal with him”.

Missoula, as a community, has a GREAT opportunity right now to really take a look at how the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, specifically, is dealing with people, and the financial compensation they should be receiving for their work.

In anticipation of some VERY intriguing claims that will be made this week by a certain law firm I’ve written about recently, claims that will come as part of some obscure legal move, I’d like to give a little peek into the open records request I got this weekend.

If that $4.4 million dollar General Obligation Bond passes to pay for the Sheriff Office’s wage claims, here is the kind of payday (broken down in bi-weekly payroll chunks) some deputies can expect to receive.

Here’s a screenshot of what Sean Evans, the Deputy who shot Johnny Lee Perry in the back, will get (this is NOT his whole financial enchilada):

And here’s a screenshot to show the same ballpark amounts, per payroll, that Justin White will get, the Sheriff Deputy who ran the Johnny Lee Perry operation:

While these snapshots don’t illustrate much by themselves, they DO hint at some of the rhetorical fodder I’ll be taking into the field as I converse with people about local “law” dynamics.

While my notion of different jurisdictions, and the badges that claim the lawful role to serve and protect them, evolves to thinking of them more as gangs, or tribes, I recognize the general public has different ideas. And those ideas are still informed by mediated narratives (read PR) exploited by our outgoing Sheriff.

If someone new to this blog reads JUST this post, without knowing anything else about my opinions on local issues, that person might assume I’m a knee-jerk supporter of simplistic schemes to “defund the police”.

Not so fast.

I finally watched “The Fight For The Soul Of Seattle” and fully acknowledge upstream policy decisions by elected officials are showing people on the ground what chaos looks like, and, therefore, the need for SOME kind of substantial consequences for chronic, criminal behavior.

But that’s the meta-narrative. The micro one developing this week will add another incredible layer to an already-existing pile of absurdities even I sometimes can’t believe.

Thanks for reading!

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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1 Response to Is There A Rural/Urban Divide When It Comes To Local Law Enforcement In Missoula?

  1. John Kevin Hunt says:

    Unfortunately, the reform DAs elected in San Fransico and Portland have messed things up even though they implemented many needed changes. As far as the MPD/MCSO dynamic and how the Msla County Courthouse grounds island of County jurisdiction in the core of the city figures in, that’s a good area for investigation.

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