Missoula County Sheriff, Jeremiah Petersen, Has Some Explaining To Do

by Travis Mateer

How powerless is this man with the mustache and the cowboy hat? The badge makes him look like he has power, but does he? I mean, his office runs the jail, the Coroner’s office, and if a sex offender is non-compliant, like Elwood Hall was, then it’s the Sheriff’s Office who should be holding the offenders accountable for failing to register at the jail.

Last September our lame duck Sheriff, T.J. McDermott, was still sporting the badge when a non-compliant sex offender by the name of Todd Spence assaulted TWO staff from the Department of Transportation during a homeless camp clean-up. I covered this incident extensively, even appearing on KGVO to discuss what happened, but now I’ve been effectively blacklisted from local media. I guess my criticism wasn’t appreciated.

Well, tough shit, because here I am at City Council yesterday making public comments about the drug epidemic that our elected leaders are trying their best to ignore. I even made reference to the fact I have received NO CALL BACK from the Detective at the Sheriff’s Office who was the listed contact for the Joey Thompson case.

Yes, that’s right, sandwiched between the Fire Department and the Police Department preparing Council for money asks, I warned City Council about the perils of ignoring the drug epidemic. At the time of making this comment I had no idea the man I referenced had been arrested the day before on some interesting charges.

How did Todd Spence earn a felony charge of “Threats in Official And Political Matters”? Good question, but unfortunately this KGVO article doesn’t really illuminate the charging decision. From the link (emphasis mine):

On May 9, 2023, a Missoula Police Department Officer responded to the area of Silver Park to assist another officer with a male suspect who had an outstanding warrant. When the officer arrived, he noticed the other officer had handcuffed the male who was later identified as 48-year-old Todd Spence.

The officer also observed a tent nearby that was occupied. While the officer attempted to make contact with the occupant of the tent, Spence became extremely agitated and began yelling at him. The officers secured Spence in the backseat of a patrol vehicle and then conversed with the occupant of the tent.

While in the patrol vehicle, Spence began kicking the cage and door and continued to escalate despite the officer’s warnings to stop. Spence continually told the officer that his arrest was unlawful and the warrant was “bulls**t,” and that his rights were being violated.

The officer explained to Spence that a judge was available to see him on his warrant and transported him to jail. According to court documents, Spence became very agitated about going to jail instead of going to see the judge and stated, “I’m going to put a bullet in your head.”

When the officer questioned Spence about the comment, Spence denied it and stated he instead told the officer to put a bullet in [the officer’s] head. Based on his training and experience, the officer believed Spence was attempting to influence his decision to take him to jail to be seen before a judge on his warrant, and that the threat was an attempt to change the officer’s decision so that he would potentially be released sooner.

Huh? As someone who has followed the movements of the criminal justice system in Missoula very closely, I’m totally mystified by this reasoning from the police officer. Maybe that’s because NO ONE really knows the secret sauce of pre-trial incarceration when it comes to the Sheriff-run jail and the cadre of judges who use it, or at least TRY to use the jail.

Two years ago I put Judge Jenks’ alarming concern about the jail into a context I’m not sure many people understood at the time, so I’ll re-quote Jenks from the NBC Montana article (emphasis mine):

“Things are really, really, really difficult right now for both the lower courts but specifically Municipal Court,” Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks said. “The county is refusing to hold our people.”

That’s because of a resolution passed by Missoula County commissioners last March. It says the jail will no longer take those charged with nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, nor those arrested for failing to appear in court, and it’s all because of COVID-19.

Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said it helps with staffing and other resources because, he points out, there’s “no other jail or plan B” if there were to be an outbreak at the jail.

While the reason for this resolution at the time was COVID-19, I’m wondering what other motivations might have been lurking beneath the convenient pandemic rationale to keep certain people OUT of jail. I’ve been hearing that the jail real estate, run the Sheriff’s Office, might be prioritizing BUDGET considerations over PUBLIC SAFETY considerations. I hope that’s not true.

Another recent headline, with a dramatic picture of a volatile suspect taken into custody near Lowell School–and which resulted in a LOCKDOWN of the school–is worth taking a closer look at. Here’s the headline and the image:

Missoula police officers took a shirtless man into custody after a short search on Wednesday afternoon in the Westside neighborhood near the intersection of Toole Avenue and Burton Street.

A request for comment from Missoula Police Department public information officer Whitney Bennett was not immediately returned, so it’s unclear what led to the man being taken into custody.

Lowell Elementary School was placed on a lockdown in the afternoon around 2 p.m., and there was a large police presence on Cooper Street as officers searched the area with guns drawn.

There is a promise at the end of this article that it will be updated, but even with an update I doubt the Missoulian will tell you that this man was arrested on May 7th and released just TWO DAYS before losing his shit AGAIN and putting an entire school on lockdown (thanks to the reader who alerted me to this previous arrest).

Here’s a screenshot of David Winterburn’s booking info for his previous run-in with the law:

Does it take more than a mustache and a cowboy hat to be a lawman? Yes, I would assume so, and since the Sheriff position in Montana is an ELECTED position, I’d like to see that mustache make some public movements to explain what the fuck is going on with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.

If you appreciate the context you won’t find anywhere else in this rapidly shrinking Montana media landscape, then consider supporting Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF), or making a donation at my about page.

Thanks for reading!


The situation with David Winterburn–and the questions that should be asked of the Sheriff–just got a lot worse. Thank you to the astute reader who tipped me off that the charges against Winterburn have been updated to DELIBERATE HOMICIDE! The emphasis in the screenshot is mine:

Stay tuned for more coverage of this case as it unfolds…

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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3 Responses to Missoula County Sheriff, Jeremiah Petersen, Has Some Explaining To Do

  1. Ted Hartman says:

    “we’re not going to arrest our way out of this” spoken by Missoula City Police in an interview about the dope and transient problem a handful of years ago long before the covid narrative. Enabled by a willing media to spread the we’re all in this together narrative.

    “if you just give me more money I can solve this problem” spoken by an elected Sheriff of a 1,000,000 population county as he addressed the Council to defend what was happening as dope and lawlessness overwhelmed a community.

    And he didn’t. And he couldn’t. And he wouldn’t. Why? Because like Missoula, there was money to be had in being a destination for shit. “There’s a reason the film crew from COPS wants to film here.” Yes. It means money. He said the same thing Missoula Police did – “we’re not going to arrest our way out of this”. He said it a few years earlier though.

    I think they teach them that at those “conferences” they go to. I can’t wait for our Sheriff to tell us how if we give him more money he can keep us safe from criminals that come from a land of police and empty words before they got here. And he can’t.

    “All empires are created of blood and fire”

  2. I just updated this post with the updated charges against David Winterburn, which now include DELIBERATE HOMICIDE!

  3. Again, like with the woman who stabbed her boyfriend nine times, I’m confused about the discrepancy in what is listed on the jail roster, and what sounds like actually happened. https://newstalkkgvo.com/attempted-deliberate-homicide-051223/

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