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Missoula County Sheriff Disputes Claims of Politics Over Public Information Officer Removal [AUDIO]

Missoula County Courthouse
Photo courtesy of Sheldon Photography/flickr.com

Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen said Monday that no politics were involved in the removal of Detective Jason Johnson as the department’s public information officer, and the appointment of his replacement, Deputy Paige Pavalone.

In fact, Ibsen claims to have emails from Johnson supporting the decision dated before a meeting in which Detective Sergeant T.J McDermott and Johnson informed Ibsen that McDermott would be running for the office of Missoula County Sheriff.

“There was no vendetta,” Ibsen said on Monday. “In fact, you’ll see in the article in the paper that stemmed from an April 19 meeting where they told me that Sergeant McDermott planned on running for sheriff, or at least that’s the semblance that one gets from the newspaper. However, I have kept very good track of this ongoing issue. On April 16, that’s three days before the meeting, I got an email from Jason indicating that he wasn’t 100 percent happy with that (the decision to replace him with Pavalone). A quote from his email said, ‘I understand your logic and I am behind the decision.’ And, that was three days before the meeting that I am supposedly taking revenge for.”

Ibsen has additional supporting documents as well.

“I also have an email from April 17, two days before the meeting from a member of the media to tell me how pleased they were with Jason, and they were very sad to see him go, and to give me some feedback on it,” Ibsen said. “So clearly, they and other people knew, even the media, before this April 19 meeting.”

Ibsen referenced a Missoulian article that made the dispute within the sheriff’s office public information.

“The Missoula County Deputy Sheriff’s Association has, as you read in the paper, filed three grievances,” Ibsen said. “One, that I removed Jason Johnson from the PIO position two, that I put Deputy Paige Pavalone into the PIO position, and three, that I changed the job description without their input. I believe that its my right to do that, and I believe they’re wrong in their grievance. The PIO is a movable position, in that no one will be in it very long, and everybody understood that from the beginning.”

Ibsen maintains that Johnson did not lose rank or pay from being moved from being the PIO back to being a detective investigating property crimes.

Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen

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Karl Englund, attorney for the Missoula County Deputy Sheriff Association responded to Sheriff Ibsen’s comments regarding the email timeline by saying McDermott’s intention to run for sheriff was common knowledge long before the meeting between the three individuals.

“State law says you cannot take actions against people based upon their political beliefs or political activity,” Englund said. “Once it became known that Detective Sergeant McDermott was going to run for sheriff and that Jason was going to help him, all of a sudden Johnson, who had started the PIO position, who had done a wonderful job, and who had received nothing but accolades, was all of a sudden removed from that position.”

Englund said the next step in the grievance process is for the deputy sheriff’s association to decide if they want to take the matter to arbitration.

“The association has until the middle of August to make that decision, and then an arbitration would occur within months after that, as opposed to within years if it went to court,” Englund said.

Meanwhile, Englund said that Johnson, Sheriff Ibsen and the other members of the department will continue doing their jobs and working together as a cohesive unit.

“That’s exactly right,” Englund said. “And that’s the reason why when he was first told that he would be reassigned, he sent the email saying ‘I’ll do what I’m told, I’ll get to work.’ As a good officer, he would follow the chain of command and do what his supervisor tells him to do. Then, it is the association’s role to determine if there’s been a violation of rights under the collective bargaining agreement. Jason will continue to be a productive, hard-working officer, as he has his entire career, and those of us who have to do the fighting will do the fighting.”

Karl Englund, Missoula Deputy Sheriff’s Association

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