by Travis Mateer
Let me first explain why I consider the window I received into the assault on MDT staff (Montana Department of Transportation) by a homeless sex offender on September 8th to be “unauthorized”.
You see, there’s this little designation the authorities in Montana get to use in order to protect criminal justice information, and that’s the CCJI statute (Confidential Criminal Justice Information). If this statute didn’t function as a double-standard tool to shield authorities from public scrutiny regarding their systemic failure, then I might be ok with it. But double-standard tool it seems to be, at least in practice.
In this particular case I was happy that a Missoula County Sheriff Deputy told me about the state of mind of one of Todd Spence’s assault victims. I guess, for the Sheriff’s Department, defending the charging decision outweighed the victims’ right to privacy.
I won’t spend a lot of time rehashing what happened on September 8th because the result was just ONE misdemeanor assault charge with a $585 dollar bond. That means after climbing heavy machinery, punching the operator several times in the face, then throwing a rock at another MDT staff, and hitting him, Spence spent a grand total of 5 days in jail.
When I made calls later that day (September 8th) I got Sheriff Deputy Jessop on the phone and it was he who explained that MDT staff just weren’t fearful enough to justify a more serious charge. Deputy Jessop further explained, having been one of the four deputies involved that day, that he would not have wasted the time of the Mobile Crisis Unit because Spence was not in the right frame of mind for their mental health services.
Since I wasn’t satisfied with this line of reasoning that CCJI normally wouldn’t have afforded me, I decided to take my dissatisfaction to a local radio program, which you can tune into at 9am this morning.
This local news source told me, when I stopped in to schedule my appearance, that they didn’t initially report on the assault BECAUSE it was only a misdemeanor, and it’s their policy to only report on incidents serious enough to warrant felony charges. Could this factor be part of the equation when considering how to hold a homeless sex offender accountable for using fists and rocks to defend his illegal encampment?
Another call I made that day, before getting Deputy Jessop on the phone, was to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. I got a nice chuckle from the person I spoke with when I said the incident had just occurred earlier that day.
“Well,” I was told, “there’s no way it would be on our desk that fast.” The “it”, I’m assuming, is the report that’s filled out by law enforcement.
I don’t have to see that report to know what’s NOT in it. My eye-witness account detailing how Todd Spence was swinging around a metal rod and threatening to cause MORE harm after assaulting two people was never taken into account. I don’t think any other witnesses, other than the two victims of Spence’s initial barrage of punches and rock-throwing, were interviewed either.
What does that mean? It means, were the case to actually make it to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, the full impact of Spence’s behavior wouldn’t have been collected by the would-be investigators of this crime.
Let me step back from my frustration and try to see it from law enforcement’s point of view. It must be hard to reassert this thing called “the law” when you, as the law, have been ignoring violations of the law for years.
The most recent disregard for ENFORCING the law by the Sheriff’s Department came this January, when the owners of this land, the Montana Department of Transportation, did their due diligence by posting visible signage that enforcement would begin. Here is one of those signs located by an unfortunate house that sees the encampment foot traffic all day, and night, long:
For the land owner (MDT) it gets even worse. They’ve been under threat of getting serious fines by the County Health Department for over two years. Here’s an article from August, 2020:
The Montana Department of Transportation could face fines if trash under the Reserve Street bridge isn’t cleaned up.
In early June, the Missoula City-County Health Department gave MDT a “Notice of Violation letter that requires them to take two corrective actions, in order to avoid fines of up to $500 dollars a day.
To give you an idea of how financially problematic this could be for MDT, it’s been around 784 days since this article came out. At $500 dollars a day, that would be $392,000 dollars. I’m not sure what kind of budget MDT has, but shit isn’t getting any cheaper, especially with the carnage in the bond market.
But there is that prospect of the Sheriff’s Office getting $4.4 million dollars in that GOB (General Obligation Bond), so maybe they’ll share if the Health Department follows through on the financial threat.
This is just one anecdotal story of a failure to properly charge, or even really investigate, what could have been, at the very least, TWO misdemeanor assaults. And for Missoula County Attorney, Matt Jennings, I’d like to point out how many problems can exist in anecdotal stories like this one BEFORE a judge can become your scapegoat.
I don’t think I’ll get all this into an hour packed with commercials, but I’m excited to answer the questions that people might have. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!