Posts Tagged ‘Missoula County’

by lizard

The Missoula County Detention Facility is a jail. It is not a psychiatric unit or a detox center. The staff are not nurses, nor are they mental health professionals.

It would be easy to just point the finger of blame at the detention center staff responsible (or at Sheriff Ibsen, for that matter) for not following protocol in the death of Heather Wasson, a 31 year old woman who died from a seizure brought on by alcohol withdrawal. As a civil matter, the court has done just that:

Missoula County must pay $565,500 in damages to the family of a woman who died of a seizure in the county jail in 2009.

The Missoulian reported ( ) Wednesday a district court jury ruled county officials were mostly responsible for the death of 31-year-old Heather Holly Wasson, who died of an alcohol withdrawal seizure about 36 hours after she was jailed.

Instead, this Missoulian follow-up article—No changes at Missoula County jail, despite inmate’s 2009 death—features a quote worth repeating from Barbara Rodderick, the Missoula jail’s assistant commander:

“The thing the jail was guilty of was being overworked and under-staffed,” Roderick said. “From a taxpayer standpoint, why can’t they look at the whole picture? These are great officers here, but … we are not a hospital. We need a detox center.”

“(Inmates) need to be completely detoxed before coming to the jail,” she added.

Your average Missoula taxpayer can’t see the whole picture because there are multiple system overloads that can’t be explicitly described. The crisis at the jail is just one of them. If you have friends or family who work at St. Pats ER, or Providence, or first responders of any kind, they will tell you about what alcohol and other forms of substance abuse are doing. Warms Springs, the state hospital, is busting at the seams.

I don’t know why there aren’t more stories about what’s going on in some of these places. I guess our local paper needs the space for stuff like this op-ed asking for a second police officer downtown:

Could it be that Missoula has at last made progress in its efforts to crack down on problems downtown?

If the figures shared at last week’s Downtown Business Improvement District’s board of directors meeting are any indication, yes. And now that Missoula has hit upon a response that gets results, we should commit more resources to strengthening it. In fact, we should double it – by adding a second patrol officer dedicated specifically to the downtown area.

The single officer doing this work right now, the Downtown BID learned last week, has issued nearly 700 citations and warnings this year, and made exactly 63 arrests through September. The offenses ranged from eight incidents of public urination to seven acts of aggressive panhandling.

Of course, any regular visitor to the downtown area can tell you that these kinds of problems haven’t been eliminated completely. However, it’s become clear that having an officer assigned just to downtown, in conjunction with other programs, has certainly helped.

Maybe the optics have improved downtown, but the crisis has not.

But hey, what about that 42 million dollar parks bond on the ballot? Yeah parks! And Missoula hasn’t quite found the right number of locally brewed beer flowing in taprooms, so throw in another one downtown. Yeah beer!

Going back to the Missoulian editorial, I found this part curious:

Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady told the board of directors of the Downtown BID that a lot of ongoing problems seem to be linked to the sale of tall cans of alcohol. In response, the board is looking at whether to partner with downtown businesses to restrict their sale.

That’s probably not an especially beneficial approach. We’re willing to bet that the vast majority of consumers who buy these tall cans are law-abiding, and not planning to consume their beverage downtown in any case. Restricting the sale of these particular items would probably just discourage consumers from shopping downtown while doing little to curb the problems caused by alcohol intoxication downtown.

Definitely important to protect the ability of people to buy 24 ounce cans of cheap malt liquor. Some of the stores that sell these fine products start as early as 8am.

I’m up late writing this post because I was awoken to screams and shouts outside my home tonight. I looked out my window and saw a street brawl brewing, at least 20 people in the street and more on sidewalks. I live on a quiet street that has been much less quiet since members of a certain football team moved in nearby.

I wonder how many people drove away drunk once the cops inevitably showed up. Hopefully no one gets killed tonight.

Or raped.

by lizard

It’s been almost 2 months since Michael Gordon shot and killed Christopher Hymel outside the Fox Club. Instead of being charged with anything, the Missoula County Attorney’s office waffled and ultimately punted the case to a process known as a coroner’s inquest.

Meanwhile, some hash-oil producing moron sparks a literal explosion, and now felony charges are being pursued against the girlfriend who was injured in the explosion, along with her 19 month old child:

The girlfriend of a Missoula man who is accused of causing an explosion while trying to make hash oil in a University of Montana apartment earlier this month has been arrested and faces felony charges.

Virginia Marie Ervin, 18, on Monday afternoon made her initial appearance before Missoula County Justice of the Peace Amy Blixt, who set bail at $25,000.

Ervin allegedly stayed in the residence with her 19-month-old daughter on Oct. 12, while her boyfriend, Patrick Wayne Austin, used butane to extract hash oil from marijuana in the kitchen. About 15 minutes into the process, the butane caused an explosion in the apartment, blowing out the apartment’s windows and burning the adults and child.

Austin was arrested immediately and remains in the Missoula County jail pending bail. Ervin, who is a University of Montana freshman and graduated from Big Sky High School, was booked into the Missoula County jail early Friday morning.

When one juxtaposes recent cases brought (or not) by the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, confusion may ensue. Shoot and kill someone outside a strip club, no charges, no pre-trial jail time. Get injured by an idiotic, hash-oil producing boyfriend who advertises on Facebook, felony charges and jail. Force your girlfriend to try and cut a tattoo off her chest with a box cutter, 3 years probation. Operate a medical marijuana business, like Jason Washington did, and it’s time spent in federal prison, hoping for the kind of mercy judge Dana Christensen showed (I’m not sure if Missoula County attorneys had anything to do with that last case, to be fair).

Is anyone else confused?

by lizard

Today the Missoula County Attorney’s office punted the Fox Club shooting case. Instead of bringing charges, or not bringing charges, prosecutors want a coroner’s inquest:

Missoula County prosecutors have declined to file charges in the shooting death of Christopher Hymel, the 23-year-old Louisiana man who was killed in the Fox Club Cabaret parking lot over a month ago.

Instead, Missoula Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks announced Monday that prosecutors are requesting a coroner’s inquest – the outcome of which will determine whether or not they will pursue charges against Michael Gordon, the man who admittedly shot Hymel in the early morning Sept. 1.

“The question is whether or not the shooting falls underneath the state’s definition of justifiable use of force and whether or not Mr. Gordon justifiably used deadly force,” he said.

Gordon claims he shot Hymel to protect himself from an assault, Marks said. Hymel was apparently unarmed during the altercation.

During the inquest, the facts of the case will be presented to a jury and Marks will interview witnesses and law enforcement officers, while Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen presides. He said Ibsen and the jury will also be allowed to ask questions.

He said he couldn’t comment further on the case because it’s confidential criminal investigation information, but the details of the shooting will be revealed during the inquest.

Hymel and Gordon apparently began to argue while they were leaving the strip club around 1 a.m. Police claim the argument escalated when Hymel began punching Gordon through the driver’s-side window. Gordon pulled a revolver from his car and fired a single shot into Hymel’s chest. Hymel was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

After 5 weeks, this? At least the Missoulian is no longer keeping the name of the killer off the pages of its publication. Michael Gordon is the young man who admittedly shot and killed Christopher Hymel. That last paragraph in the quoted selection above is also interesting. It’s a much more vague accounting of events than this depiction in an earlier article from the Missoulian:

The shooter, described only as a 27-year local man, pulled a revolver from his truck and shot 23-year-old Christopher Michael Hymel, a Louisiana resident in town visiting his girlfriend’s family, once in the chest. Hymel was pronounced dead at a local hospital a short time later.

Witnesses said Hymel had stepped to the window of the man’s truck to discuss the vulgar comments the man had made toward two of Hymel’s female companions.

A fight ensued through the passenger window of the man’s truck. When Hymel stepped back to remove an article of clothing, witnesses told the Missoulian, the man allegedly stepped from his truck, shut his door, raised his revolver and shot Hymel in the chest.

So now our current Sheriff, Carl Ibsen, will preside over a messy sounding legal process where both jurors and the Sheriff can ask questions of witnesses while the prosecutor interviews witnesses. Remember, this is all happening after a 3 week investigation and a 2 week review of the evidence.


While killers like Michael Gordon and Markus Kaarma get to go about their lives, there are people sitting in jail for a wide variety of minor, petty offenses, like failing to appear on violations of city ordinances.

Fred Van Valkenburg can pull numbers out of thin air, like he did in the recent article about overcrowding in the county jail, which I wrote about here, but I don’t think anyone takes Fred seriously anymore.

The bigger problem is this: how can the Missoula County Attorney’s office restore public trust after years of scandal and dysfunction?

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