BH county attorney lays out plans to stymie injustice

Thursday, November 1, 2018

For the past four years, I have had the extraordinary privilege of serving you as Big Horn County attorney. In this time, the county has experienced tremendous levels of injustice.

We have seen horrific murders, child abuse and neglect, rape, home invasions, methamphetamine distribution, vehicle theft, high-speed pursuits, drunk driving, damage and loss of private property, and the devastating reverberations these types of criminal behavior have to the health and well-being of a community.

 In order to minimize and eventually eliminate the level of forcible crime and lack of a sense of law and order (particularly in rural Big Horn County), and the overlapping jurisdictions and resulting alphabet soup of government agencies, three things must happen:

First: Law enforcement agencies (including child protective services and probation officers) must coalesce with each other and with prosecutors as never before in order to ensure we have an all-hands-on-deck approach to combatting crime fully and effectively as it occurs, and to ensure proactive efforts are made to deter crime.

Second: Community organizations (both public and private) must also coalesce with each other and – to the extent it is feasible – with law enforcement and prosecutors in order to gain traction with effectively addressing areas of high risk for crimes and to stop criminal thinking in its tracks.

Third: The sanctity of the law-abiding household and law-abiding citizen must be fully protected by the law, and this includes greater law enforcement presence throughout the county, and much timelier and effective prosecution. Nothing can replicate the magnificent positive impact and criminal deterrence that safe, law-abiding and loving households provide to a community and the ability of this dynamic to persevere goes hand in hand with government diligently investigating and prosecuting crime.

 

County Attorney’s Office will improve

The county attorney is a local leader in the criminal justice system and we must improve our performance. I have made several errors in the past four years. To have it done over again, we would have prosecuted Brandon Wegner and Kerstyn Old Bull (among others) to a jury trial and tested the strength of our evidence, and left fate in the hands of our fellow citizens.

In the next four years, we will rely upon the jury more than ever to vindicate the law and restore a sense of law and order in our community. Doing so will be demanding upon our fellow citizens, as jury trials are costly and time consuming, but the demands of public safety and accountability are without question worthy of this type of investment and a reminder of the duties we all have in obligation to each other.

Notably, my office announced a policy in January 2018 calling for civil prosecution cracking down on abuse to unborn children facing a prospective lifetime of disability caused by an addict mother. This represents a proactive, “outside-the-box” means by which to combat one of modern society’s greatest injustices. This was not a mistake, as the future of our society depends entirely on protecting the most vulnerable from abuse, and future generations may perhaps be best positioned to evaluate the efforts (or lack thereof) made today – indeed, future generations rely on the ethic of protection against abuse in this respect.

As it stands, we are working with health professionals to ensure those genuinely seeking help with addiction – and taking responsible and reasonable steps towards their sobriety and well-being – are honored through a prosecutorial immunity.

 

District Court judge election

Among the many important decisions to be made by county citizens on Nov. 6, 2018, is the selection of district court judge. For the second time, we citizens of Big Horn County will have the opportunity to vote for Matt Wald in a local public office.

In a more just world, Matt would have been elected county attorney in 2002. He is as fine a person as we have in our community and has simply set the bar for the ethical, competent practice of law in Big Horn County. As a judge, I am fully confident Matt will hold law enforcement and prosecution to the mandates of the law, hold criminals accountable to the law and community, and in doing so will apply the law as written by your elected representatives. Matt has the intelligence, temperament and character to ensure fairness and the implementation of practical means and workable solutions in the same manner he has always done at his ranch in the Lodge Grass Creek valley.

We are extraordinarily privileged to have Matt as a candidate for judge and I am proud to endorse Matt in his bid for this important position.

 

Two Rivers Detention Facility and Big Horn County jail expansion

Another key item for the county citizenry is the ballot question of whether to authorize the issuance of new county debt for the financing necessary to construct an expansion to the county courthouse for a new jail facility.

Unfortunately, the recent public discourse has more closely resembled trench warfare than civic dialogue befitting the importance of the issue. Whichever course the county is to move forward upon in the future, the Two Rivers facility should be viewed as an opportunity for interagency (or “joint sovereign”) collaboration to bring healing and restoration to lives damaged by the hopelessness and despair that fuels the substance abuse epidemic in our community.

Two Rivers should be reformed and re-branded as a “merging streams” confluence (read: interdisciplinary and intergovernmental) of proven and new concepts to ensure whole-person healing and a return to society with principles of sobriety that jail traditionally does not afford.

Two Rivers should be a minimum security substance abuse rehabilitation center, not only because public funding and political will nationwide is geared towards such alternatives to long-term, traditional incarceration, but more so because there are an extraordinary number of non-violent addicts who will find strength and confidence in society giving opportunity for healing outside the confines of jail.

However, society (and our community in particular) deserves reprieve from the ravages of drug addicts and violent alcoholics. Incarceration is a stop gap measure that fulfills the most important purpose of criminal law enforcement: incapacitation of those who would victimize others unless physically restrained from doing so.

Unfortunately, the reality of our world is there are legitimately dangerous and destructive criminals in our community with anti-social or even sociopathic behaviors who will prey upon on any person or item of property in any opportunity that may present itself. If we are to combat this type of crime more successfully and establish infrastructure ready to accommodate potential economic development projects (the Big Metal Coal mine, for example) that will bring more money (and crime) to our community, we simply need a new jail facility, period.

Whether it is through the auspices currently proposed or another means altogether, a larger and better facility must eventually be constructed. The decision is in the hands of the citizens now.

 

Priorities in the next four years

In the next four years, my office will institute policies that call for much stronger and longer sentences to repeat offenders, and we will use all legal tools available to hammer anyone involved in methamphetamine distribution.

We will place renewed emphasis on proactively engaging criminals and crime syndicates, and will focus on addressing root causes of substance abuse through the long-overdue establishment of treatment courts and formal, structured misdemeanor probation. We will bring all necessary parties together to ensure there is a fully-functional interagency stolen vehicle task force, a local highway safety initiative to end the repeat cycle of drunk driving and help enforce the Crow tribal legal status of Crow Indian Reservation roads as “closed range” to loose livestock, and ensure that unfair trade practices and consumer protection laws are clearly communicated to the public and, if necessary, violations strictly prosecuted.

The stakes are very high in our community and the demands it places upon us equally so. This will be the only time I seek re-election as county attorney and I will vigorously commit myself to these tasks given the privilege of another term in office before rejoining you in the most important office in government: that of the dutiful public citizen. For justice, my friends.

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