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Saga over ‘coyote club’ draws to close

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POLSON — After six years, multiple court cases, numerous investigations and employee turnover, the saga over the so-called “coyote club” may be coming to an end.

The “coyote club” was brought to the limelight in 2010 as a result of an investigation by Frank Bowen, a longtime Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden, in which he alleged that several area law enforcement officers were taking game out of season in prohibited places through the “club.”

No charges were ever brought against most of the officers, although many of those embroiled in the controversy wound up in court.

In one case, former Lake County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy Jesse Jacobs was charged with two counts of illegal possession of a game animal — a moose — but those charges were dismissed in May 2011. Assistant Attorney General Deborah Butler requested the charges be dismissed without prejudice due to insufficient evidence.

Some of the parties involved in the matter ended up suing each other, along with a few others in three different cases. Two of the three cases have been dismissed. Though final judgment in the last civil suit brought against the LCSO is pending, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Anderson recommended on Jan. 12 that the case be dismissed in its entirety.

When questioned recently about the “coyote club,” county attorney Steve Eschenbacher said he has no intention to continue the investigation and declined to comment further.

Two former sheriff’s office employees (who were part of a group that had brought a civil suit against LCSO for retaliation in bringing alleged corruption to light) now see an improved situation with the sheriff’s office.

“For those of us so intimately involved, it changed our lives,” said Steve Kendley, who lives in the Polson area and works as an emergency medical technician in Missoula. “I’m so proud of us,” he said. “We lit a fuse that changed some things.”

“I have 100 percent faith that the chief law enforcement officer (Don Bell) has honesty and integrity,” Kendley added. “Things are so much better. Citizens need to know we have a good sheriff’s office.”

Terry Leonard, who is now a detective with the Pondera County Sheriff’s Office in Conrad, said the saga “was a very painful time for all parties involved. I believe the Lake County Sheriff’s Office is on the right track to restore the confidence of Lake County citizens.”

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