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State investigating actions of Troy police chief

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| August 12, 2009 12:00 AM

The Montana Department of Justice is investigating Troy’s chief of police for allegedly refusing to surrender property owned by a gun club that members say will cost $7,000 to replace. 

What chief of police Mitch Walters describes as a civil dispute involving less than $1,000 worth of used metal targets, members of the Cabinet Rifle and Pistol Club call criminal action.

“He’s claiming they don’t belong to us anymore, that they belong to him,” said Phil Jungst, match director of the Cabinet Rifle and Pistol Club. “He, in fact, has stolen those targets.”

Walters says he was interviewed by the state investigator last week and is not worried because he “has nothing to hide.”

He called the investigation “no big deal” and added, “This is not surprising because police are held to a higher standard. It’s just part of the job.”

When the club’s lease wasn’t renewed last fall at its Bull Lake Road shooting range, Walters and other members took the club’s equipment for their personal use on condition that they eventually return it.

Walters said the agreement was that the equipment would be returned when the club found a new location for a shooting range, but club president Hugh Taylor said it was to be returned when the club needed it.

Two weeks ago, Taylor filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office, which conducted a preliminary investigation.

“It began to look more and more like a felony situation,” Lincoln County Sheriff Daryl Anderson said, “so we turned it over to DCI (Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation).”

The state investigation began Thursday, Anderson said, when an investigator traveled from Kalispell. Arlyn Greydanus of the DCI in Helena said on Monday that the investigation was still in progress, though Walters told The News that he had already been cleared of allegations.

“… The investigation has come and left, and I’m cleared of it,” he said.

Once the investigation is complete, Greydanus said, the case will be presented to the attorney general’s office to determine if a criminal act has taken place.

The investigator could determine that the dispute is of a civil nature, Anderson said, in which case club members would have to take Walters to court to recover the targets.

If the state finds there is merit to club members’ allegations, Walters could be charged with felony theft and would run the risk of losing his job.

Walters is sure that it won’t go that far. He believes that current club members will have to answer to the law for their own behavior.

“I want to push criminal charges the other way,” he said. “They have accountability where all the assets are.”

Taylor said he requested the targets from Walters about a month ago because the group, which consists of about eight active members, practices at the county shooting range in Libby. The other members have already returned the equipment, which is stored on Jungst’s property in Libby when it’s not being used.

Walters said that with Libby members taking over the Troy-founded club, he didn’t think it fair to hand the equipment over to use in Libby.

“The bottom line is this – the assets of the club should have been distributed half and half between Libby and Troy,” he said. 

When the club lost its shooting range, Troy members did not have enough votes to dissolve the club, Walters said, so it stayed intact with thousands of dollars of equipment and about $2,800 in the club’s bank. 

“We have a shooting club out there with very limited membership,” Walters said. “The officers of the club are going to make off with all the assets of the club. It just ain’t right.”

Walters sent Taylor a “list of demands” before he would relinquish the targets, Taylor said. Walters asked for a copy of the club’s membership for the past three years, a copy of how the property has been distributed, club meeting minutes and others.

Walters said that the agreement was that Libby members would get the club’s $2,800 and Troy members would get the equipment, though Taylor and Jungst point out that the club is still active, so all of its assets still belong to it and not individual members of Troy or Libby.

“We have money in our club coffers, yes, that’s right,” Jungst said. “That belongs to the Cabinet Rifle and Pistol Club. That’s absolutely irrelevant to this issue. He (Walters) is really making an effort to cause as much confusion as he can.”

Walters said he planned to approach the Troy Shooting Club on Tuesday to back him in his effort to gain half of the Cabinet Rifle and Pistol Club assets.

“If I can’t get the Troy Shooting Club to assist me in going after the assets of the club,” he said, “I’ll just tell them (Cabinet Rifle and Pistol Club) to come get the targets.”

Jungst said the club has been around since he was a boy. There was a 10-year span that it wasn’t very active, he said, but it became popular again in 1984. The club has held two shoots since losing its range and has scheduled a third for Sunday.