Jan. 29 Montana News Briefs

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Special prosecutor folds case against former Missoula deputy

MISSOULA (AP) — The case of a former Montana sheriff’s deputy accused of choking a handcuffed man during an arrest in 2017 has been resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement. A deferred prosecution agreement means a charge of mistreating prisoners will be wiped from former Missoula County Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Hartsell’s record if he completes the terms of the agreement. The Missoulian reports the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled if Hartsell violates the agreement. Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher says Doug Hartsell is prohibited from working in law enforcement over the agreement’s one-year term. Eschenbacher said Monday he didn’t believe he had enough evidence to secure a conviction at trial, and that the victim had been uncooperative. Milt Datsopoulos, Hartsell’s attorney, was not immediately available for comment.

Federal fines against University of Montana reduced to $395K

MISSOULA (AP) — The U.S. Department of Education has reduced the fines against the University of Montana for reporting “inaccurate and misleading” crime statistics from 2012 to 2015. The Missoulian reports the university announced that its federal fines have been reduced from about $966,000 to $395,000. The university was found in violation of the Clery Act, which requires schools that receive federal funding to give accurate crime statistics. University President Seth Bodnar said in a campus-wide email last week that the university has taken steps to “institute better processes for data collection, classification of crimes and accurate reporting of our statistical information.” He noted that the issue did not involve the “university’s efforts around prevention and response to crime.” The university will make monthly payments through January 2024.

Horse euthanized after injury during Montana skijoring race

KALISPELL (AP) — A skijoring race in northwestern Montana was called off early after a horse was injured on the course and had to be euthanized. The Daily Inter Lake reports the horse was injured Sunday at the World Invitational Skijoring races, which pair a horse and rider with a skier being pulled through a course. The event was being held at Big Mountain Ranch in Whitefish in conjunction with the Whitefish Winter Carnival. Skijoring committee member Mike Righetti says the rider hit a turn too hard, and the horse stumbled and “rolled wrong.” The owner decided to euthanize the horse, and a vote was taken to end the races early. Righetti says skijoring event organizers work hard to make the course safe, but the sport comes with a “known risk” of injury.

Montana lawmakers to take up physician-assisted suicide ban

HELENA (AP) — Montana lawmakers are being asked to consider a bill that would make it illegal for a physician to prescribe drugs to hasten the death of a terminally ill patient. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that nothing in state law prohibits physician-assisted suicide. Since then, lawmakers have failed to pass bills that sought to either explicitly ban or legalize the act, leaving the practice in a gray area legally. A House bill to be heard Tuesday aims to change that. Under the measure, doctors who prescribe life-ending medication could be charged with homicide and they would be unable to use the patient’s request for assistance as a defense. The bill does not refer to withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment, which is allowed under the Montana Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

Neighbors sue to stop plans to demolish historic church

HAMILTON (AP) — A group of Montana homeowners have filed a lawsuit challenging the demolition of a historic church. The Ravalli Republic reports the group’s complaint, filed Thursday in Ravalli County District Court, claims the City of Hamilton’s Board of Adjustments abused its discretion when it approved a conditional use permit and variances to allow the Roman Catholic Bishop of Helena to demolish and rebuild the 122-year-old St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Hamilton. A church official says plans are moving forward to raise the estimated $3 million required for the project. A Missoula timber frame salvage company is expected to begin tearing down the building next January with construction of the new building to start in March 2020.

Victim of fire near Winston, Montana, identified

WINSTON (AP) — The man killed in a fire in southwest Montana has been identified as 21-year-old Tyler Wensel. Broadwater County Sheriff Wynn Meehan says the victim was trapped inside an apartment located above a detached garage near Winston and like became disoriented due to smoke inhalation. The Independent Record reports the fire was reported shortly before 1 a.m. Monday. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but Meehan does not suspect foul play.