The Rest of the Story by Pat Merriman

In her article, Belfield mayor, police chief suspected cop was having sex on duty, April Baumgarten, once again, fairly and accurately took aim at the Travis Carlson sex scandal.

Merriman

As previously reported by this newsletter, on June 2, 2014, the Belfield City Council went into “closed session” (closed to the public) for over 90 minutes. What was being discussed? Baumgartner confirmed that a transcript of the City Council’s closed session did, indeed, pertain to the firing of Carlson after a woman (identity unknown) told Police Chief Nicky Barnhard that she and Carlson had sex (sometimes while Carlson was on duty).

And, as I predicted, because the Attorney General’s ruling compelling Belfield to release these minutes, they, in fact, included an alleged litany of sins including not only ethical issues but, also, texting while on duty, sharing of confidential information and, misconduct. Residents of Belfield complained to the Dickinson Press and, the compelling nature of the allegations, and the city’s actions in closing the discussion, has polarized this small community and, led to three newspaper stories after the firing of Carlson.

What a tragic and completely avoidable mess! And, as I also predicted, the indiscretions, rightfully so (according to Baumgartner), caused the Belfield City Attorney to have concerns about Carlson’s credibility if he had kept on the force. And, that attorney is completely correct. A philanderer who cheats on company time (with company equipment) makes for a poor witness, particularly, in a sexual assault case.

Carlson’s actions (true or untrue) had forever “tainted” his credibility rendering any arrest he made suspect as well as his testimony at any later trial because the issue bore on truth/veracity and was fodder for any defense attorney who was vigorously defending their client. It’s the same dichotomy facing officers who refuse to arrest friends for DUI (or other crimes) because that “discretion” is being abused to the detriment of other suspects.

And, in this day and age of computers and other record verification, the good ‘ol boy system is just too easy to expose. A “selective prosecution” inures and, if you don’t think that a judge or jury will see through the ploy, you are sadly mistaken. Ask ex-LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrmann what happens when a private faux pas or abuse of discretion becomes public. One other issue bears mentioning because it falls under the false charity heading.

Ms. Baumgartner reported that the board might have had a different stance if the peccadillo was a one-time incident. Sorry, but that misses the mark. If a sworn peace officer was engaging in this conduct, some sort of counseling or reprimand might be the appropriate punishment early on with a mea culpa.

We all make mistakes. But, the problem with sexual indiscretion is that it is never an isolated incident and, the words of Sir Walter Scott ring so true” Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” The moral? It’s called an “affair” for a reason. Classic definition of that term, “an event or sequence of events of a specified kind.” The vast majority of the time, as we learn from our elected leaders’ far too frequent lapses, there is no such thing as an isolated incident. A course of conduct is self-perpetuating and destroys every one (and thing) it touches including public credibility and confidence in law enforcement. When you pin on the badge, you forfeit the do-over under these circumstances. Councilman Harold Kubischta said it best, “And like I said, it’s not a lapse in judgment, it’s almost premeditated. That many times and that long, it’s a no for me.” The lying, the sneaking, “What’s going to be the truth?” Mayor Leo Schneider agreed, “It’s a betrayal of trust,” and, Councilman Jeff Iverson added, in the transcript, “We’ve struggled for some time now and we finally thought we found someone that could take us another direction.” Schneider added the incident was “going to hurt the other three officers if they have a case.” “It’s way worse than I thought it was,” he said. “It’s out of my hands. I can’t help him.” And, that as they say, is (sadly) that. Hopefully, Belfield has heard the last of this and, they can move ahead. A hard lesson learned but, it’s time to move on.


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