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"O, WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE..."; BILLINGS POLICE CHIEF RICH ST JOHN'S MEDIA BLITZ JUST ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO DECEIVE THE PUBLIC
by MONTANA NEWS ASSOCIATION
Billings Mt., Oct 23, 2007--/mna press/--Billings Police Chief Rich St. John, in a televised interview on the local NBC affiliate, KULR 8, on Sunday, October 14, 2007, admitted that he has started to elicit the media’s help in putting a new sheen on the Billings Police Department’s tarnished image. The full-court press includes St. John’s monthly meetings with local businesses and numerous public appearances, all geared toward taking the BPD’s message of transparency and accountability to the people.
Chief St. John insists that morale in the police department is high, with no drop-off in productivity. According to the chief, there have been no more citizens’ claims of misconduct or complaints about excessive force.
Chief St. John referred to recent events (an allusion to the Steve Feuerstein trial, in which the City of Billings was found to have violated Feuerstein’s right to free speech under both the Montana and United States constitutions, to have violated the Montana Safety Act and to have failed to provide proper supervision) as a “bad situation”, which was really only a “small thing” that had taken place and that the police department was “working through” it.
The problem, however, is that a marketing blitz in favor of the Billings Police Department, in which the Chief makes dozens of public appearances affirming the Shangri-La state of the BPD, does nothing to effect real change in the department. The Chief proudly proclaimed in the KULR 8 interview that he had implemented all of the recommendations from the IACP external review, within one year. He stated that they have restructured the officers’ beats, the handling of promotions and made suggested policy changes. However, Chief St. John, when testifying under oath at the Steve Feuerstein trial, said that he believes “policies are guidelines we try to adhere to, but can deviate from.” In other words, St. John implemented certain changes, of which he testified he has limited expectations for his officers and command staff to follow. But public admission of that isn’t part of the marketing plan for the Billings Police Department.
KULR 8’s Greg LaMotte, who conducted the interview, asked Chief St. John whether the Feuerstein lawsuit had strengthened the perception of the infamous police “code of silence.” St. John’s response was that the code of silence exists only in theory. St. John stated that “in today’s day and age, you’re not going to see it.” That statement not only misleads the public, it’s an outright lie, as Rich St. John should well know. Neal Trautman, founder of the Law Enforcement Training Network and Director of the National Institute for Ethics, conducted ethics training for the Billings Police Department, in 2002. Dr. Trautman is a nationally recognized expert on the infamous law enforcement “Code of Silence.” His institute conducted a survey of 1,116 fulltime officers from twenty-one different states and found that the Code of Silence is very much in existence and prevalent in law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. Billings, Montana is no exception. The data concluded that 73 percent of the individuals pressuring officers to keep quiet about the misconduct were leaders.
In fact, the Montana News has received tips that another officer is being subjected to retaliation by the Billings Police Department, for having broken the Code of Silence. Officer Terry Bechtold, who testified for the defense in Steve Feuerstein’s trial, allegedly has been accused by command staff of being in collusion with Feuerstein in “trying to bring down the department.” At issue are statements and references made by Bechtold, during his testimony, which shed a negative light on the department’s lack of uniformity and consistency in internal investigations and corrective action.
According to the Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation report, ten internal investigations were initiated by the BPD, as a result of the testimony given by Officer Bechtold at the trial, to determine if administrative wrongdoing or preferential treatment had occurred. The conclusion was that “the accusations made by Officer Bechtold were based primarily on hearsay and that he was not aware of the department’s internal investigative efforts and results.”
It took the BPD and DCI less than one month to conduct those ten internal affairs investigations. Chief St. John and City Administrator Tina Volek held a press conference on Friday, September 14, 2007 to discuss the conclusion and findings of these IA investigations. At that press conference, both St. John and Volek denied any possibility that retaliation was being perpetrated against Officer Bechtold for his testimony.
Yet, MNA Press sources have contacted the Montana News with information, regarding the substance of the complaints and subsequent internal affairs investigations against Officer Bechtold. According to the sources, all four complaints were made directly following Bechtold’s testimony in the Steve Feuerstein civil trial. The complaints were filed, individually, by Officer Blake Richardson, Brett Lapham, Clyde Reid and Bruce Oberg. The complaints dealt with Officer Bechtold having referred to them as “Hinkel’s boys”, when he testified.
During the trial, Officer Curtis Eckhardt, former Officer Corrine Metter, Captain T.J. Vladik, Officer Clyde Reid (who filed one of the complaints against Bechtold), Officer Rob Vickery, Sgt. Mark Kirkpatrick and Detective Sgt. Jeremy House were all able to provide their own definition of the term “Hinkel’s boy” and did not dispute its usage within the Billings Police Department. Detective Sgt. House divulged, “I’ve been called a Hinkel’s Boy numerous times throughout the years.”
Perhaps the most damning irony in Chief St. John’s retaliation against Officer Bechtold is the Chief’s own testimony, regarding the existence of the “Hinkel’s Boys” club. Billings Police Chief Rich St. John testified, under oath, that BPD officers who are not “Hinkel’s Boys” are “people who are disgruntled in the workplace, who believe in entitlement.” St. John then unequivocally clarified, not once but twice, that people who are not “Hinkel’s Boys” are “whiners”, who "complain that somebody else got something that they didn’t get."
Not one complaint was filed against any of the other member of the Billings Police Department, for referring to someone as a “Hinkel’s Boy”, during the trial. Not one of those others who testified has been accused of “harassment” of other officers, or conduct unbecoming an officer, or of bringing disrespect on the Billings Police Department, through their sworn testimony. The only complaints were filed against Officer Terry Bechtold, who willingly testified for the defense.
K-9 Officer Bryan Korell and Officer Dave Punt, who both testified they distributed narcotics to a civilian, with whom they were both involved sexually, have not been accused of bringing disrespect on the Billings Police Department for their testimony.
Officer Bechtold clearly has been targeted by Chief Rich St. John for retaliation, which is quickly warping into retribution, for having had the integrity to stand up and tell the truth about the out of control, and even rewarded, corruption in the Billings Police Department. Chief St. John allowed more complaints (one for using the term “Hinkel’s Boys” at a crime scene, one for “staring” at a K-9 Unit officer) against Bechtold to culminate in a Due Process Hearing. The accusations were that Officer Terry Bechtold was “creating” a hostile work environment. The City tried to hold the hearing without Bechtold’s attorney, Elizabeth Best (who successfully represented Steve Feuerstein in his civil trial against the City of Billings), present. Sources told the MNA PRESS that Bechtold reminded the city of their bargaining agreement with the Union, and the city backed down.
The due process hearing took place on Monday, October 15, 2007. Assistant City Administrator Bruce McCandless facilitated, with Chief Rich St. John, City Attorney Brent Brooks and Human Resources Director Karla Stanton also present. The upshot is that the City has placed Officer Bechtold on probation through December 19, 2007, and is requiring Bechtold to attend ethics classes and courtroom testimony classes. Bechtold has ten days in which to grieve the City’s planned discipline. If Bechtold complies without grieving, it will be construed as an admission of guilt. If Bechtold grieves, it will be an understood request for more retaliation from Rich St. John and the BPD command staff.
Officer Terry Bechtold could not be reached for comment; Chief Rich St. John, at the last moment, has cancelled two interviews with the Montana News (apparently the MNA Press doesn’t fit into the BPD’s marketing blitz.)
So much for Chief St. John’s mantra of “transparency” and “accountability.” It’s business as usual at the Billings Police Department. The only question that remains is, who’s holding the rug and who’s doing the sweeping?
Log on for upcoming releases of evidence of retaliation against those who break the Billings Police Department code of silence, which Chief St. John, in his public appearances claims doesn’t exist, but behind closed doors, actually directs and enforces.