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Above the law

In Lake County, it's hard to tell some cops from the criminals

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Van Voast's statement was one of roughly 25 that Bowen solicited from people familiar with Nash's hunting. Nash appeared to be a key member of the Coyote Club, according to Bowen. His tribal status exempts him from state hunting regulations, which seemed to provide cover for the other Lake County law enforcement officers he hunted with. Bowen's interviews suggested that Nash and other members of the Coyote Club had hunted illegally for more than a decade. It seemed to be an inner circle of "good ol' boys," as one source said, who gathered for drunken hunting excursions.

Much of that decade overlapped with Lance Ewers's stint as a Lake County Sheriff's deputy, from 2000 to 2009. Ewers, now an Alaska State Trooper, said Nash often hunted with Sargeant and other non-tribal law enforcement officers.

"They bragged about shooting game animals with spotlights from their patrol cars," Bowen wrote, summarizing Ewers's statement. "One of the officers tried to get Ewers to shoot a game animal from the patrol car one night when they were working together.

"That officer told Ewers it was the only way he could become part of the group. When Ewers refused to shoot the animal, the others became unfriendly and belligerent toward him."

It was Deputy Dan Duryee, Ewers said, who pressured him to illegally shoot an animal. Ewers ultimately left the force "due to the corrupt nature of several of the officers, and the unwillingness of the local leadership to deal with the issue," Bowen wrote.

Bowen also interviewed area taxidermists and meat processors. One said Nash and Sargeant were his best customers; from 1996 to 1998, they brought in a total of 16 trophy deer, two trophy elk and two bears. He said sometimes he'd find animals left outside his shop that Nash and Sargeant had dropped off overnight.

Another taxidermist and meat processor, who began doing business with Nash and Sargeant in 2001, said they brought more game than anyone else—10 or 12 animals a year. Nash brought so much that he was given the combination code for the building so he could drop animals off after-hours.

For years, Lake County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Duryee lied about being a combat veteran.
  • For years, Lake County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Duryee lied about being a combat veteran.

The taxidermists assumed there was no misconduct because Nash was a tribal member.

Ewers told Bowen that Lake County law enforcement officers would leave poached animals at a taxidermy shop under Nash's name, an allegation supported by statements given by a taxidermist and two of his employees. "Anything not tagged with a state license went under the name of Jason Nash," Ewers told Bowen. "Everyone believed that because Nash was a tribal member and a tribal police officer, no one could or would do anything about it."

Tribal members on the Flathead Reservation can hunt year-round and take as many animals as they wish.

Tribal Game Warden Mike McElderry had heard rumors over the years about Nash's hunting, and he informed Nash's supervisors in the tribal police department. "McElderry stated that those supervisors told him that the problem would stop or Nash would be terminated from his position as a tribal officer," Bowen wrote. "Somewhere round 2005, McElderry spoke directly to Nash about his alleged hunting violations. McElderry told Nash that the activity needed to stop or there would be dire consequences."

On Sept. 7, 2010, Bowen and McElderry interviewed Nash. The tribal cop was "very evasive," Bowen thought. Nash claimed to have never hunted on the Flathead Reservation with a non-tribal member, though he admitted to giving Sargeant one or two deer or elk mounts. He stated that in June 2010, after he learned of FWP's pending investigation, he and another officer removed wildlife mounts from Sargeant's home. He said Sargeant had asked them to.

Bowen also interviewed 23 officers employed by Lake County, most of whom voluntarily made sworn statements. Four officers refused, including Lieutenant Mike Sargeant.

On Sept. 20, 2010, Bowen wrote to Wayne Ternes, the director of POST, the arm of the Montana Department of Justice that oversees state law enforcement agencies, requesting that Ternes do "whatever is within your power" to compel the officers to come forward.

The case remains open. Bowen says he can't discuss it.

During the 2010 hunting season, FWP received further allegations implicating Nash, including hunting on private property, shooting from a county road and taking wildlife with the aid of artificial light. The allegations were forwarded to Tribal Fish and Wildlife in November 2010. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes haven't filed charges, nor are they expected to.

"There are a lot of allegations with no dates, no times, no witness statements—nothing of that nature," says Tribal Law and Order Chief Craige Couture. "It's hard. Anyone can make an allegation...but without facts and proof, it's hard to prove the case."

It may be impossible. Tribal Fish and Game Conservation Manager Pablo Espinoza says the statute of limitations has expired for most of the allegations against Nash.

Nash is still a tribal cop. He did not return calls seeking comment.



Lies

Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Duryee gave detailed accounts of his experiences as a Marine in combat. Once, he told a fellow officer, he had been part of a six-man team in a firefight. When air support came to drop napalm on the enemy, they took cover behind a wall but the napalm splashed over it. Four men died and a fifth was wounded. Duryee said he carried the wounded Marine to safety, but the Marine later died in a hospital in Germany. Duryee showed the officer the scar on his arm where the napalm had hit him.

Duryee also told that officer that he had never slept better than the night after his first combat kill.

And he complained to his wife of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Levi Read began to suspect that Duryee was fabricating his war stories. In 2008, Read was in a standoff with an armed suspect. Duryee commanded Lake County's Special Response Team, an appointment he got because of his purported combat experience. He told Read to position himself in a place that Read felt was unsafe. Later, Read told Duryee that his order violated Read's basic S.W.A.T. training. According to Read, Duryee said, "Sometimes it's like being in the military...You just do what you are told no matter what."

So Read filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and learned that Duryee had never served in the military. In May 2010, Read submitted a complaint to POST. "Duryee's lies, and the fact that he was in leadership because of those lies, put other deputies in jeopardy," he wrote.

Also in May 2010, Michael Gehl, another Lake County officer, wrote a letter to POST Director Wayne Ternes about "a matter which has affected the very foundation of the Lake County Sheriff's Office." He wrote that Duryee had built a career on "fabrications, lies, deceit, [and] intimidation."

Read's and Gehl's were two of several complaints POST received about Duryee's lies. POST began an investigation and interviewed 13 of Duryee's colleagues and acquaintances. Their statements made it "very clear that Daniel Duryee has made false claims of military service from at least 1997 until as late as June 2009," POST reported.

"It is evident that Duryee was allowed to be a member of the Special Response Team and a sniper without attending any formal training, based on his false claims of military service and combat experience," POST concluded. "It is also evident that Duryee was given command of the Special Response Team" based on those claims.

Some 4,000 rounds of ammunition donated to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office went missing.
  • Some 4,000 rounds of ammunition donated to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office went missing.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office did its own internal investigation, led by Undersheriff Jay Doyle. It also found that Duryee lied. And then Duryee acknowledged it himself. On Sept. 3, 2010, he wrote to the sheriff that once, several years ago, he had told a "fish story" about serving in the military. "This was a lie...I make no excuses for what I did. It was wrong and disrespectful. I deeply regret this story."

Then Duryee attempted to prove that his accusers had harassed and defamed him as part of a larger, politically motivated effort to "smear the name of Jay Doyle." At the time, Doyle was running for sheriff.

POST recommended that it revoke Duryee's law enforcement certification because he'd violated the code of ethics, undermined public confidence in law enforcement and harmed the agency's and officers' reputations.

That was beyond what Doyle thought was appropriate. His internal investigation concluded that Duryee hadn't committed a crime, that his lie was "just a story" and that there were no grounds for discipline.

Ternes, the POST director, disagreed, insisting on sanctions, including that Duryee receive a psychological evaluation to determine whether he was fit for duty.

Sheriff Lucky Larson complied, scheduling the evaluation and placing Duryee on administrative leave on Aug. 25, 2010.

A psychologist based in Flathead County reported back that Duryee did not "exhibit indications of acute or personality-based psychopathology." Instead, the psychologist chalked Duryee's lies up to "immaturity" and found him fit for duty. Larson reinstated Duryee a couple of weeks later. "The investigation is complete," Larson told the Lake County Leader. "We complied with all of the state's requests."

Ternes appeared satisfied—until a March 2011 phone call with the psychologist. Ternes came to believe, as he wrote in a subsequent letter to the psychologist, that the Lake County Sheriff's Office had failed to tell the psychologist the extent of Duryee's lies. If it had, Ternes felt, the psychologist wouldn't have written them off as mere immaturity.

There were signs that Duryee was—and is—unfit for duty. They concerned Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Kendley. In August 2010, Kendley told Sheriff Lucky Larson that he feared Duryee would retaliate against him, his family and/or co-workers because he was one of Duryee's accusers. Larson asked Kendley to put that in writing. Kendley's four-page letter, dated August 20, 2010, explains why he believes Duryee is unstable.

In addition to Duryee's made-up war stories, Kendley recalled that earlier in 2010, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had investigated Duryee for manufacturing and possessing an illegal machine gun. The agency seized the alleged gun from Duryee's home but never charged him with a crime. Kendley also noted that Duryee was interviewed by the state attorney general's office in connection with the purported disappearance of 4,000 rounds of ammunition from the sheriff's office.

"To my knowledge, Sgt. Duryee has never expressed any remorse, nor has he ever been held accountable for any of these actions," Kendley wrote. Instead, he continued, Duryee's rank as a patrol sergeant and his seat on the Sheriff's Office Interview Board, among other posts, "gives the appearance that Sgt. Duryee is without fault, honorable and will continue to flourish in this office."

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