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Attorney General wraps up 3 investigations into Lake County Sheriff's Office

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POLSON — The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has been cleared of three allegations of wrongdoing brought forward in complaints by current employees of the office. 

The Department of Criminal Investigations investigated allegations made by Lake County deputies Ben Woods, Steve Kendley and Mike Gehl of unlawful conduct by Sheriff Jay Doyle, former Undersheriff Karey Reynolds and former deputy Patrick O’Connor. Doyle requested that the state agency look into the complaints several months ago, and Assistant Attorney General bureau chief Brant Light recently issued opinions on the three investigations, finding that prosecution was not warranted in any of the three cases.

“I am simultaneously pleased that the Montana Attorney General’s office has responded so clearly to these unfounded allegations and disappointed on behalf of taxpayers at how much public funds, employee time and other resources were diverted away from public safety and instead wasted on dealing with unfounded, unsustained allegations,” Doyle said in a news release last week.

A complaint by Deputy Woods that former Deputy O’Connor had illegally accessed Woods’ personal computer and copied files from his computer could not be proven, Light wrote, due to a lack of evidence. Several difficulties contributed to Light’s finding: the alleged crime could have taken place within a 14-month window; DCI was unable to determine how the files arrived at the sheriff’s office; Woods’ computer was not available for examination; and Woods had engaged in personal conduct which made investigation difficult, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.  

Kendley had alleged that Doyle and Reynolds obstructed justice by instructing another deputy not to investigate an incident at a Ronan elementary school, and that complaint was also found to be unsubstantiated. The deputy involved told DCI investigators that he had overreacted and that Doyle’s instructions to him had not obstructed his investigation into the school incident.

“Therefore, there was no evidence that Sheriff Doyle or former Undersheriff Reynolds had obstructed justice,” Light wrote in his opinion.

A third allegation by Gehl that Reynolds, while serving as undersheriff, had lied on an application for a search warrant, claiming to have 20 years of experience in law enforcement when he had worked in the field for only 10 to 14 years, was also investigated.

Although Light wrote that Reynolds’ statement was, “under the circumstances at the time, false or misleading,” prosecution for perjury was not warranted for three reasons. First, the district court judge stated the warrant would have been signed whether Reynolds had 20 years or 10 years of law enforcement experience; second, the affidavit for the search warrant justified probable cause regardless of the affiant’s — Reynolds — experience; and third, and most important, Light wrote, the search warrant was never served because the defendant consented to the search.

Light also recommended that administrative action be taken against one of the complainants for a violation of Montana law that came to light during the DCI investigations. While the statute of limitations has expired in the matter, the sheriff’s office can still internally address the employee’s alleged misconduct, according to the LCSO news release. 

Kendley, Gehl and Woods, along with Deputy Levi Read and former Deputy Terry Leonard, filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in February against Sheriff Jay Doyle, Undersheriff Dan Yonkin, Lt. Mike Sargeant and Deputy Dan Duryee for alleged violations of the plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights and the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. The men allege they have been reprimanded in their employment, have suffered demotion, have been denied promotion and have been subjected to a hostile work environment. Kendley, supported by the other plaintiffs, ran for Lake County Sheriff in 2010 as an Independent candidate against then-Undersheriff Jay Doyle, the Republican candidate. Because of their support for Kendley, the plaintiffs, including Kendley, say they were subjected to retaliation by the Lake County Sheriff’s office, specifically from Doyle, Yonkin, Sargeant and Duryee.

The suit is scheduled for jury trial in Missoula March 18, 2013.

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