More than two years ago, Frank Bowen, a warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, began a long investigation into an alleged poaching ring involving law enforcement officers in Lake County. But the agency continues to try to keep Bowen quiet and his findings under wraps.
In June, the Montana Legislature’s Law and Justice Interim Committee was forced to subpoena Bowen to testify about the alleged misconduct among Lake County cops, and FWP’s attorneys strictly limited what Bowen could say, fearing he’d divulge confidential criminal justice information. The agency even refused to release to the interim committee documents exonerating Bowen of wrongdoing after Lake County Attorney Mitch Young demanded an investigation of Bowen himself.
Now, in a federal court case filed early in the year against four Lake County officers, a case that partly hinges on evidence of officers’ alleged poaching, the plaintiffs are trying to finally force FWP to hand over Bowen’s boxes of documents.
On Dec. 7, the plaintiffs—Terry Leonard, Steven Kendley, Michael Gehl, Ben Woods and Levi Read, all current or former officers in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department—filed a motion to compel FWP to produce Bowen’s documents. The move came after an FWP attorney argued during a November deposition that the documents contain “privileged criminal justice information” that state law requires remain confidential. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Rich Buley of Missoula, argued in the Dec. 7 motion that “no privilege applies to these documents, and even if some privilege does apply, the merits of disclosure here far outweigh any claimed privilege of privacy.”
Buley tells the Independent the documents are critical “so we can review the information that’s already developed from the proper investigative body of state of Montana regarding what we believe to be the underlying crimes here.” He adds, “I’m pretty confident we’ll get them.”
The plaintiffs claim, in part, that the defendants—Lake County Sheriff Jay Doyle, Undersheriff Dan Yonkin, and officers Mike Sargeant and Dan Duryee—violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, by attempting to prevent the plaintiffs from providing evidence of the “unlawful killing, poaching and interstate transportation of illegally taken game.” A trial is expected to begin in March.