Criminal Justice Turnover At The Top: What’s Going On?

by Travis Mateer

If what I heard over the weekend is true, the vicarious trauma that comes with prosecuting humans for breaking the law may finally have gotten to the woman leading the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, Kirsten Pabst. Or maybe something else has triggered the decision Pabst has allegedly made less than six months after securing her reelection.

I like this image of Pabst because it includes one of the men who has played a supporting role in her reign, and that’s former County prosecutor and current judge, Jason Marks. We’ll get to Marks and his lawyer wife in a moment. But first…

The man in uniform pictured above is Mike Colyer, the best damage-control placeholder around for the short-term job of interim police chief after Jaeson White announced his departure at the end of March. Why is Mike the best? Because he’s done it before, after the Engen-enabler, Mike Brady, left the top cop position. Also, he was one of four people mentioned by United States Attorney, Michael Cotter, after Missoula’s rape culture was supposedly all fixed up over a decade ago.

Here are some accolades from Cotter’s DOJ press release (emphasis mine):

Also, at the podium are four of Missoula’s community leaders who I have gotten to know very well over the last several years. I respect these men immensely. These leaders have shown great courage implementing necessary changes in sexual assault policies and training here in Missoula. They are “true agents of change” because each recognized that the old way of investigating sexual assault, was not the best way. Today, under new protocols, victims are heard, they are not blamed and they are no longer stereotyped. These 4 leaders worked together to ensure through new comprehensive policies implemented by Missoula PD, U of Montana, U of M PD that law enforcement and the University community will no longer fail victims of sexual assault of Missoula, but these new policies will benefit all victims and enhance public safety. Today, Missoula, as a community, is safer. I am proud to share this podium with:

John Engen, Mayor of the City of Missoula; Mike Brady, Chief of the Missoula Police Department; Mike Colyer, Captain of the Missoula Police Department; Royce Engstrom, President of the University of Montana.

I wonder if the man standing behind Pabst understands he’s supposed to evolve along with things like “new protocols” that hopefully include NOT blaming victims. I know of AT LEAST ONE County Attorney under Pabst who absolutely DOES NOT understand updated consent statutes, for example, and it’s not just because I believe things I’m told second-hand by a woman who has had to endure the antics of one little man on Pabst’s prosecution team.

Judge Marks is no longer on that team. Instead, he has been busy concocting a new form of judicial activism with an amazing maneuver that involves a time machine that, on the surface, appears to be just a death certificate. But the specifics regarding that amazing feat will have to wait for another post. Today I’m more interested in how echoes resonate between MISSOULA County and MINERAL County, where the Jasper family has serious clout.

Lance Jasper has had his time under the Zoom Chron lens because his Mandamus move helped peel back the peel on the figurative banana representing criminal justice in Mineral County. And who is taking a direct hand in helping with this Mandamus assault on Mineral County? Jasper’s colleague, Jordan Kilby, who is married to Judge Marks. Should we keep peeling?

Mineral County, like Missoula County, has a former Sheriff who has gone dark. For Mike Toth, it’s because there’s a public court process playing out, along with a legally mandated requirement for him to participate, which he’s currently ignoring. What about MISSOULA’S former Sheriff, T.J. McDermott? Could there be some kind of process playing out behind the scenes? I wonder.

Also, in Mineral County, the legal drama currently pitting the Sheriff’s Office against the County Attorney’s Office amidst a Constitutional crisis was precipitated by the exit of County Attorney, Ellen Dononhue. I couldn’t find any official record of Donohue leaving her office, so here’s something from 2017, when Donohue first took the attorney position. From the link (emphasis mine):

Ellen Donohue is the new Mineral County Attorney, replacing Marcia Boris, who left at the end of last summer. Donohue was hired for the position by a selection committee, and will work for the rest of Boris’ term, which ends in 2018.

Currently she’s renting a place, but may buy a home in the future, “it just depends on how well the community likes me. I plan on sticking around for a while, but I’ve never held an elected position before. It will be up to the voters to decide,” she said.

Were there warning signs that Donohue wasn’t up to the task? I’d say, and that’s because of what Ellen says in the next paragraph:

One thing that has surprised Donohue is the high number of felony cases in Mineral County, given the size of the population. There were 92 cases in 2016, compared to 100 in the Anaconda-Deer Lodge area, which boosts a population of nearly 10,000. But, she understands that a number of those cases stem from Interstate 90, which stretches across the county.

Yes, there is an imbalance between the resources tiny communities along Interstate 90 can deploy when violent criminals botch an armed robbery in Idaho and end up taking a hostage at the Travel Center in St. Regis, Montana. Here is the best local report of what transpired (emphasis mine):

It all started when the Montana Highway Patrol told the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office of a vehicle involved in an armed robbery in Idaho.

Mineral County Undersheriff Wayne Cashman reports that around 11:30 am, the sheriff’s office received a report of a car that was abandoned at the sewer plat in St. Regis.

The caller reported they watched the suspects go to a local hotel, with a woman staying at the hotel while a man went to the travel center.

The woman was put into custody by one deputy, while others went to make contact with the man at the travel center.

When the deputies made contact with the man, he reportedly pulled out a weapon and took a hostage.

The man did not follow any orders to put the gun down, and at one point, he pushed the hostage down, shooting them twice, according to Cashman.

The Mineral County Sheriff’s Office is DAMN LUCKY the hostage wasn’t killed after the decision was apparently made to approach the suspect inside the travel center.

I know some details about what happened because I drove out to St. Regis Saturday evening with my Mineral County investigation partner after news of this incident broke . Here’s a picture I took:

I assume the water on the pavement came from washing the blood away. The suspect died outside, but the woman we spoke with at a local motel indicated there was a lot of blood INSIDE the travel center, presumably from the injured hostage.

The woman also told us she took shelter with her child and traveling companion inside the public bathroom. Her car was shot twice in the parking lot and is now considered evidence, so they were waiting for a family member to drive over from Spokane to get them to their final destination, which was most certainly NOT St. Regis, Montana.

As big leadership changes happen in Missoula and Mineral County, I hope new forms of collaboration can emerge after the acrimony settles down. Because if fruit can do it, so can we!

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Thanks for reading!

UPDATE: a more recent Missoulian article includes the latest information, including what happened to all FOUR people in the get-away car. I’m glad Sheriff Ryan Funke provided a clarifying statement to local media in order to better educate the public on the risk they face.

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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4 Responses to Criminal Justice Turnover At The Top: What’s Going On?

  1. webdoodle says:

    Skink, are you suggesting that Pabst is resigning? If so, she should get on with it, so we have time to get the County Attorney on the upcoming ballot. The last thing we need is ANOTHER appointed official in Missoula government. I’m assuming the County Commissioners would do the appointment, one of which, Juanita Vero, is herself an appointed Commissioner.

  2. TC says:

    You often speak of synchronicity – it does seem as there is perhaps a move afoot as City/County leaders (elected or otherwise) are stepping aside at this time. It seemed to start with the unfortunate death of Engen but now there is MPD Chief stepping down, former Sheriff going dark, and possible County Attorney ….
    Its almost like either they see the shoe about to fall (hopefully if so lands on Buchanan, Jones and Stromaier somehow) or the true powers want them to step aside so the next wave can be installed and gain the necessary cachet to be elected and maintain status quo (Hess/Vero).

  3. UPDATE: the rumor is JUST a rumor, Pabst is apparently NOT retiring.

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