Dr. John Stowers designed his website, www.newsheriffmslaco.com, to grab attention. The site’s “Did You Know?” page is loaded with allegations of malfeasance and misconduct on the part of Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin and Undersheriff Mike Dominick. The site endorses no particular candidate in the upcoming November elections, but crossed-out photos of McMeekin and Dominick over the logo “Missoula County’s Most Unwanted,” makes the site’s allegiances, or lack thereof, clear.
But shortly after June 15, the mail delivered notice of more attention than Stowers had planned on. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg wrote Stowers raising legal concerns about the site and its potentially unauthorized dissemination of medical records pertaining to a former detention center inmate ordered off his anti-psychotic meds by Sheriff McMeekin—an action Stowers characterizes as “illegally practicing medicine without a license.” Additionally, Van Valkenburg demanded that Stowers remove the site’s “unauthorized” reproduction of the sheriff’s department insignia, which the county attorney claimed “conveys a false and misleading impression that the site is officially connected with the Sheriff’s Office.”
And finally, Van Valkenburg advised that Stowers’ site violates state campaign finance laws.
Van Valkenburg demanded a “satisfactory response” within 10 days, threatening to refer Stowers’ “apparently unauthorized release of medical records” to the Board of Medical Examiners if he failed to provide one.
Stowers has yet to respond, but his case, he says, is solid. First, he says, the inmate’s mother, who holds power of attorney for her son, has signed a release, which the Independent has seen, authorizing Stowers to “share her son’s medical records with media outlets and legal professionals as Dr. Stowers may see fit.” Secondly, Stowers asserts, the department’s insignia is public property. And thirdly, Stowers contacted the State Commissioner of Political Practices, who he says told him that to be certain of squeaky cleanliness, Stowers should establish a statement of finances, a distinct bank account, a designated P.O. box address, and name a treasurer—all of which Stowers now intends to do.
But the issue, Stowers feels, is about more than squeaky cleanliness.
“He’s after me because I’m making him look bad,” Stowers says of Van Valkenburg. To which charge the county attorney responds, “It’s me doing my job.”
Precisely, Stowers says, what he’d like to see the county attorney doing more of.
“Why is he so concerned about an inmate he doesn’t even represent when all these other things are going down [at the detention center]? He’s trying to intimidate me to step back, and I’m not going to.”