Missoula Sheriff Says $750,000 in Damages Sought by Josh Clark is “Highly Unreasonable”
Former Missoula County Undersheriff Josh Clark is seeking damages totaling $750,000 after the Montana Human Rights Bureau found that current Sheriff T.J. McDermott had discriminated against Clark by "demoting" him to patrol, but Sheriff McDermott says that claim amount is "highly unreasonable."
McDermott was asked by KGVO News to respond to the amount of damages requested as well as the claims made by Clark's attorneys that Clark had been given improper safety gear and ammunition and placed on night patrol. Below is the full transcript of McDermott's response.
“Pursuant to MCA 7-32-2102, Mr. Clark maintained his former salary prior to being appointed Undersheriff, as well as his seniority as a patrol deputy, perhaps making him the highest paid deputy on patrol," McDermott said. "It's unfortunate that Mr. Clark chose to work only three shifts before resigning from his position. Being that I was only a week into my appointment as Sheriff, I had hoped we could move past the election. With that being said, Mr. Clark’s demand for 750,000 of tax payer dollars is highly unreasonable. We're confident that the matter will be handled appropriately, and that the public will see Mr. Clark's accusations are not supported by the law."
Along with the statement, the Sheriff's office also responded with a full essay titled "Setting the Record Straight," which is printed in full here and also goes a great distance in explaining the situation from the Sheriff's point of view:
Former Under-Sheriff Josh Clark, after losing the race of Sheriff against me last year, recently filed a complaint to the Human Rights Commission against me for political discrimination. Many people have since speculated as to the truth or falsehood of the complaint details. I have been asked to clarify my position as this case moves forward.
As your Sheriff, I am committed to ensuring that all people are treated with dignity, respect and fairness within the law, especially non-discrimination rights. This includes political discrimination statutes. This is true for our citizens and my employees alike. That’s why it is important for everyone to understand just what happened before any decisions were made in regards to Mr. Clark’s new assignment to patrol, a position he did not oppose when it was offered. As an elected Sheriff, and knowing the contentious nature of the previous election with Mr. Clark, I sought out and obtained legal counsel from the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and guidance from Missoula County’s Human Resource department. I wanted to be absolutely sure my actions were proper and supported by the law.
To be clear, prior to his re-assignment to patrol, I asked Mr. Clark on several occasions what position he was interested in (other than Undersheriff) at the office, under my leadership. Mr. Clark never offered any response. Since he stated no preference when asked, I assigned him to patrol knowing that under Montana Law, Mr. Clark would continue to receive the same pay, he would maintain his seniority and likely be the highest paid patrol deputy we have.
Two important reasons supported Mr. Clark’s assignment to patrol. First, Mr. Clark publicly stated in a Missoulian article that patrol “is a very honorable position”. Second, my predecessor (Sheriff Ibsen) told me that Mr. Clark was looking forward to being back on patrol as a senior deputy with less responsibility
It was not until after the assignment was made that troubles began. Mr. Clark worked only three shifts in patrol and later resigned his position. Mr. Clark then filed a political discrimination complaint against me with the Montana Human Rights Commission.
Mr. Clark did not tell me or anyone until after he was assigned to patrol, that he believed he was entitled to be assigned to a Captain’s position even though I specifically had asked for his input.
Since then an investigator, who is not a judge, has decided that this case should go to a hearing. No witnesses have yet been sworn. No witnesses have testified or been cross-examined. No evidence has been offered by anyone. The only thing that has happened is that a decision has been made that a hearing will be held.
For this reason, my attorneys have advised, and I agree, that it would be improper to try this case in the press and that is why I have not been available to answer all of the media’s questions at this time. It would be improper and possibly damage the law’s findings. A hearing before a hearing officer will be held at a later date, where both sides will have an opportunity to present evidence and cross examine witnesses. Then it will become clear to all what truly transpired. I ask for your patience as the process proceeds.
Since becoming Sheriff, my staff and I have worked very hard to update and replace the majority of the equipment used by our deputies and detention officers for their safety as they patrol the streets and manage the jail. Under my leadership, we have updated our uniforms, replaced our high mileage patrol vehicles and perhaps most importantly, we have replaced all of the expired ballistic vests, left undone from the previous administration. Body cameras have been purchased for all of our patrol deputies and new portable radios for our detention offices.
And for the first time in decades, thanks to the support of the County Commissioners, this budget cycle we were able to add four new and additional deputy positions to the Sheriff’s Office that I requested. These positions were desperately needed and will advance greater safety for our citizens.
I, like the majority of the folks in our community, look forward to moving past the election and I want to continue working hard to provide our community with a Sheriff’s Office we can be proud of and trust. I look forward to the opportunity to present all of the evidence in the upcoming hearing.
Sheriff T.J. McDermot