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BILLINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT ALLEGED CORRUPTION AND RETALIATION AGAINST OFFICER STEVE FEUERSTEIN, INITAITED IN 2002
by MONTANA NEWS ASSOCIATION
By: Investigative Reporter
Billings Montana., July 22, 2007--/MNA PRESS/--As a young boy, Steven Feuerstein dreamed of being a superhero, who put on his cape everyday and went out to save any and all who needed him. Years passed, Steve grew up and instead of becoming the original superhero, did the next best thing. Steve went into law enforcement and on August 31, 1992 became Officer Steven Feuerstein, who put on his “cape” every day, in the form of a Billings Police Department uniform. At least, that’s how Steve Feuerstein looked at his job, for the first nine years of his career with the BPD.
Steve Feuerstein’s career was on an ascending path, for his first nine years with the Billings Police Department. Feuerstein remained a patrol officer until 1996, when he was given an undercover assignment for six months. Eighteen months later, Feuerstein realized a lifelong dream, when he was chosen to be the third member of the Billings Police Department K9 unit. Feuerstein could have made that dream a reality a few years earlier, in 1996, when the first K9 program was started up by the BPD, but withdrew his name from the pool, due to the upcoming birth of his first son.
Feuerstein attended a six-week training course in Ohio, where he met and was given Igor, a Belgian Malinois, who was to become his partner for the next six years. In 2000, Feuerstein’s sergeant was so enthusiastic about Steve Feuerstein’s performance, that he suggested Officer Feuerstein establish a training program for the other K9 officers. Then-Lieutenant David Hinkel wrote, “You continue to be a self-starter, who has taken the lead in the K9 program” about this outstanding K9 officer.
In November of 2001, however, Officer Feuerstein was faced with a “life” moment, when he encountered a work situation, in which he would have to decide whether to be a man of integrity and ethics, or a man who blurs the line between good and bad, right and wrong…a man who goes along, to get along.
Steve Feuerstein had been gone on his annual extended fall hunting trip. At the first K9 training session in which Officer Feuerstein participated after his return, Feuerstein discovered a small package of heroin was missing, when he was starting to hide the narcotics used as K9 training aids. Feuerstein asked the other two members of the K9 Unit with whom he was training, Officer Dave Punt and Officer Brian Korell, about the missing heroin. They said Feuerstein must have left it at the last training session. Feuerstein, who always documented what was hidden (and where) at each session, returned to the location of the last session in which he had participated, before leaving on his hunting trip. Feuerstein searched the exact, documented location for the heroin, but it wasn’t there.
Feuerstein came back, and confronted Punt and Korell. Korell then confessed, after initially lying to Feuerstein, that he had loaned the heroin out to Tanya Godfrey. Godfrey was a civilian dog trainer, who on occasion, had trained her “contraband” dog, with the BPD K9 Unit. Officer Punt also had full knowledge that the heroin was in possession of a civilian, when he and Korell tried to make Feuerstein believe he had left the heroin at a previous training location.
Officer Feuerstein strongly objected to the heroin being loaned out, as Tanya Godfrey was not registered with the DEA to possess any amount of illegal drugs, for any reason whatsoever. Steve Feuerstein demanded that the heroin, allegedly illegally distributed to a civilian by Officers Punt and Korell, be returned immediately. The heroin was not returned, until January 2002, a full two months later. Brian Korell was the one who brought it back.
In February 2002, another incident took place that convinced Officer Feuerstein that the problem with Punt and Korell mishandling drugs needed to be dealt with by command staff. The incident took place after a training session at the secured lot for cars impounded by the BPD. At the end of the session, K9 Officer Dave Punt opened the cans used to contain the training aid narcotics. Punt opened a can for cocaine, a can for heroin, and a can for methamphetamine. In each of the cans, instead of replacing the drugs, Punt placed handwritten notes that had “Dave Punt took this” written on them.
Officer Feuerstein caught Dave Punt in this illegal act and objected, because Feuerstein had checked out the drugs and was therefore responsible for their safe return. Officer Punt informed Officer Feuerstein that he was going to take the drugs home for training purposes. (Coincidentally, Officer Dave Punt was now living with Tanya Godfrey, the civilian dog trainer to whom Dave Punt and Brian Korell allegedly gave DEA registered-use only narcotics, to use for her personal, private training sessions with her dog.) Feuerstein told Punt he was not to take the narcotics, but Punt said he was going to take them, no matter what Feuerstein said or did about it.
Officer Steve Feuerstein then had a decision to make: would he go along to get along, or would he take a stand for truth, ethics and integrity, reporting the incident to then-Lieutenant Hinkel? Feuerstein knew this was a weighty decision, regarding his career, as Punt and Korell were well-known “Hinkel’s Boys.” “Hinkel’s Boys” are known throughout the BPD as officers who are given preferential treatment in every aspect of their careers with the Billings Police Department, simply because they are friends of Dave Hinkel. They have the reputation of being the “chosen few”, who can do no wrong – regardless of whether what they’re doing is right or wrong, legal or illegal – and are above the rest of the other members of the BPD.
Officer Feuerstein decided to bring the matter to then-Lt. Hinkel’s attention. Hinkel’s response and directive to Feuerstein, about his boys’ illegal behavior? “Let’s keep this between us. There’s a witch hunt going on.” What Hinkel did not know was that Steve Feuerstein, in order to protect himself, was taping the meeting, without Hinkel’s knowledge. This is not Dave Hinkel’s “alleged” response; this is his actual, proven, undisputed response when confronted with on of his “boy’s” illegal activity, by taking heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to use for his – and presumably that of his civilian live-in girlfriend’s – personal use.
Feuerstein’s response, upon hearing Hinkel instruct him to engage in a Billings Police Department cover-up, was to realize that nothing was going to be done…at least, certainly not by Dave Hinkel. “It literally made me sick to my stomach,” Feuerstein testified in court.
The retaliation started in, shortly thereafter. On Feuerstein’s next performance evaluation, then-Sgt. Jeremy House, Feuerstein’s immediate supervisor, wrote: “there are tensions in the K9 Unit, for which Officer Feuerstein is responsible.” Then-Captain Rich St. John added to the documentation: “Your propensity to butt heads with the County Attorney has put the Billings Police Department under a microscope. Working on relationships with your fellow officers will pay dividends.” [emphasis added]
After his meeting with then-Lt. Hinkel, Officer Feuerstein was “at a loss” as to what to do next. In March 2002, a few weeks after his meeting with Hinkel, Feuerstein attended BPD mandated training on ethics. Neal Trautman, founder of the Law Enforcement Training Network, conducted the training. Feuerstein determined that he would approach Trautman with the bare generalities of the situation, asking, “Where does a person go when he encounters this type of situation? Who does he talk to, next?” What Officer Feuerstein didn’t know at the time, was that Neal Trautman, law enforcement ethics trainer, was a close personal friend of then-BPD Chief Ronald Tussing. (Dave Hinkel was, and continues to be, one of “Tussing’s Boys.”)
Trautman asked Feuerstein if he would feel comfortable talking to the Chief? Upon Feuerstein’s agreement, Trautman arranged for the three of them to meet in his hotel room, at the Sheraton. Then-Chief Ron Tussing took lots of notes at the meeting. Feuerstein’s position was that what Hinkel did was, at the very least, disgraceful…at the most, illegal. Feuerstein told Tussing that he had taped his meeting with Hinkel, without Hinkel’s knowledge. Tussing never told Steve Feuerstein that he should not have taped Hinkel; he merely asked for the original tape. Feuerstein, knowing that that tape was his only proof, cagily said no, but offered to provide then-Chief Tussing with a copy, to which Tussing agreed.
A few days after the meeting, Feuerstein gave the promised copy to Tussing. Tussing listened to the tape and did nothing. After all, Hinkel was his boy.
In fact, the only response given to Steve Feuerstein was when then-Deputy Chief Jerry Archer called Feuerstein into his office. Jerry Archer allegedly started in on Feuerstein, saying, “Hinkel’s pissed about you taping him. He wants to have you arrested.” Feuerstein’s response was to stand up, put his thumb on the magazine release of his weapon and remove the magazine. He put the weapon and his badge on the table and stuck out his hands to be cuffed. When Archer asked him what he was doing, Feuerstein retorted, “If you’re gonna arrest me, take me to jail, now.” Feuerstein called Archer’s bluff and Archer, knowing he had no case, backed down and apparently decided to deal with the situation, by again trying to sweep it under the rug.
Then-Deputy Chief Archer attended the first April 2002 K9 Unit meeting. He got up and told everybody, “It’s all just a big misunderstanding.” Feuerstein was dumbfounded, especially when Dave Punt went off on a profanity-laced tirade against him. Then-Deputy Chief Jerry Archer, then-Lt. Dave Hinkel and then-Sgt. Jeremy House stood by, watched and, like their Chief Ron Tussing, did nothing.
LOG-ON FOR NEXT IN SERIES: BILLINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT ALLEGED RETALIATION AGAINST OFFICER STEVE FEUERSTEIN, DURING 2003
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