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Sheriff Candidates Discuss Local Issues

Candidate Forum 2 of 4 Candidates Vie for Votes


April 26, 2018

Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

Missoula County Sheriff/Coroner Candidates

SEELEY LAKE - The Seeley Lake Community Council hosted two candidate forums, April 9 and 11, covering eight races with 31 candidates in attendance. All candidates on the May 8 Special District Mail-in ballot and June 5 primary were invited. Ballots for the May 8 election were mailed April 18.

For the next three weeks, the Pathfinder will feature two of the races from the Candidate Forum. This week the Pathfinder features the candidates for the Missoula County Sheriff’s and Justice of the Peace that will appear on the ballot during the June 5 primary. Previous coverage of the Seeley Lake Rural Fire District and Seeley Lake Sewer District are available at

MCAT also recorded both candidate forums. They are available by following the links:

• April 9 Forum including U.S. Senate, Missoula County Commissioners, Missoula County Sheriff, Justice of the Peace and Seeley Lake Rural Fire District:

• April 11 Forum including U.S. House, House District 92 and Seeley Lake Sewer District Races:

Missoula County Sheriff/Coroner (Partisan, 4-year term): Current Sheriff/Coroner T.J. McDermott and candidate Josh Clark are running against each other in the democratic primary election June 5. Independent candidate Travis Wafstet was also in attendance and will be on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot against the winner of the democratic race.

Josh Clark (D) ran in the election four years ago on the platform of safeguarding public trust and the public's rights. That continues to be his platform. He said citizens of the United States live in a free county and they won't be stopped unless a law is broken. He said law enforcement and police are given incredible power. Based on a certain set of facts, they are given the power to come into a home or business, put shackles on someone and drag them to jail. "We better make sure we have the best people in there to protect the public trust and protect your rights."

He takes issue with the lack of transparency currently going on at the Sheriff's Office. He said it should not take five months to hear about an incident involving excessive use of force by a deputy. It shouldn't take the Missoulian to demand, through a public information request, facts about a deputy that sexually harassed and then touched a second female two months later.

Clark said, "I'm willing to stand up for you and I'm doing it again to protect the public trust and your rights because someone has to."

T.J. McDermott (D) is the current elected Sheriff and Coroner. He said it is an honor to serve as the sheriff and work with the brave men and women of the Missoula County Sheriff's Office. He said that together they are fulfilling their promises to the citizens of Missoula County, continually seeking to advance safety measures while adhering to the best practices in law enforcement. He is proud of his team because they have done a great job and have his utmost respect.

He said in the past four years the Sheriff's Office has replaced all the necessary safety equipment used by detention officers and deputies. This equipment was expired and outdated when he was elected Sheriff.

He has addressed jail overcrowding. The community now has a jail diversion plan that deals with low-risk offenders.

The Sheriff's Office has advanced their response to sexual assaults and made sure detectives and deputies have had the latest training and are participating in the best practice to conduct those investigations.

The Office has worked collaboratively with the board of county commissioners to increase staffing. This included getting a third deputy for Seeley Lake and a School Resource Officer that rotates through the Missoula County Public Schools, including Seeley Lake.

Travis Wafstet (I) is a newcomer to the political field. He was raised in East Missoula. He understands what it is like to be a part of a close-knit community like Seeley Lake and how important that is. He said that while there was a third deputy added to Seeley Lake, currently the area is only served by one deputy. He addressed that issue in an article to the Pathfinder and is one of the things, among many, that he hopes to improve upon as sheriff.

He has spent the last five years as a sworn deputy and is currently assigned to the detective division. The majority of his time has been as a field training officer with more than 400 hours of certified law enforcement training. He has served as the assistant chief for the East Missoula Fire Department for 12 years. He feels that he is qualified to be sheriff because not only does he have law enforcement experience, but he is also a leader in his community.

What do you feel the biggest issue is in rural Missoula County and how would you address those?

McDermott (D): The biggest issue in rural Missoula County and in Missoula is the methamphetamine epidemic and opioid crisis. He said that relates to serious crimes and misdemeanor crimes. He said there is coverage in Seeley Lake. Deputy Mike Sunderland was the third deputy added but took a position in Missoula. The Sheriff's Office is in the process of filling that position. Another challenge in a rural community is housing.

Wafstet (I): In 2017 there were 2,547 calls for service in Zone 5 that includes north Potomac, Seeley Lake, Greenough, Condon and to the Missoula/Powell county line on Highway 200. There were 26,959 total calls for service in the Sheriff's Office. This equates to 10 percent of the calls coming from the Zone 5 area and a little more than of one percent of the deputies employed by the Sheriff's Office. The biggest issue is getting deputies on the streets in and around Seeley Lake.

Clark (D): The biggest issue is coverage. Missoula County is huge. When there are four or five guys on a shift, their backup is several minutes away at best. Three years ago this administration was given four more deputies. He was amazed that there are not more deputies in Seeley Lake. One of the four was suppose to be a resident deputy in Seeley Lake. The current sheriff has more deputies working for him than any other sheriff since 1984.

What is your stance on the Second Amendment and a possible bill that would limit assault rifles?

Wafstet (I): He said he swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution for all citizens especially the citizens of Missoula County. As the Sheriff, there is a need and importance to protect people's rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The second amendment would not be altered to take away the rights of gun ownership in its entirety unless the Supreme Court made that ruling to restrict those rights.

Clark (D): If citizens have a right to something based on the U.S. Constitution and Montana Constitution, he will protect those rights. The second amendment is under the U.S. Constitution but the Montana Constitution also has a very strong protection right to keep and bear arms. That is not negotiable.

McDermott (D): As Sheriff he protects, defends and supports the constitution including the second amendment. He fully supports the right to keep and bear arms.

What is your definition of an assault rifle?

Clark (D): An assault rifle is any rifle used to assault a person. The assault rifle is a misnomer. They are attacking guns in general, the black guns especially that are evil. It is a very broad use of the word. It is scary when people are talking about legislating something and using such a broad use of the word.

McDermott (D): When looking at what is happening nationally, when talking about an assault rifle we are talking about something similar to an AR-15. It is a rifle with high capacity magazines and the capability of shooting rapidly, with a lot of rounds in a short amount of time and killing a lot of people.

Wafstet (I): He believes the term assault rifle comes from the AR-15 designation. The term assault rifle for the AR is typically something the mainstream media uses to confuse people but in our reality it stands for ArmaLite Rifle when it first came out. The term assault rifle can be attributed to any rifle out there and is a scare tactic to inflate the gun agenda currently in the country.

Due to the problem of unavailable or unengaged parents, what are your thoughts for reprimanding and rehabilitating problem-youth without setting them up for failure and long criminal records?

McDermott (D): He thinks the key is for young people to have a positive adult role model. He said there is more than one deputy working in Seeley Lake. The Sheriff's Office send a deputy to Seeley Lake each shift and there is 24-hour coverage in Seeley Lake. "That is the best coverage we have ever had. I'm the only Sheriff to ever add a resident deputy to Seeley Lake, spend time in Seeley Lake patrolling myself, add a school resource officer and [make] Tyler Robinson a deputy to increase the coverage up here." The school resource officer interacting with the children in the school, teaching them about right and wrong and giving them an opportunity to have positive interaction with law enforcement is important.

Wafstet (I): Wafstet started with the Sheriff's Office 16 years ago in the cadet program that is designed to help youth get into the law enforcement field. He said he had many mentors that helped raise him in an honorable and ethical profession and he believes that it takes one strong adult to affect a child's life. He is currently a licensed foster parent, currently the coordinator of the cadet program and he believes that school resource officer is an important position. He would like to expand on the school resource officer position and add more deputies to serve in that capacity for the 11-13 schools in Missoula County. He believes that is an important part of the Sheriff's Office and will affect the community as a whole.

Clark (D): He started in the cadet program. He wants everyone, especially kids, to feel safe with officers and ask them for guidance. Unfortunately, sometimes people get in trouble. He believes law enforcement officers can do so much for youth without the pen right away. Officers can guide them, warn them and get involved and get their parents involved.

Closing Statements

McDermott (D): He said he is humbled by the level of support he has been able to maintain and picked up as Sheriff. His campaign is well supported by the local elected officials including county commissioners, mayor, city council, state representatives and the majority of the citizens including a very popular Sheriff Doug Chase. Chase wrote a guest column supporting his candidacy and urging the citizens to vote for McDermott. For McDermott, these endorsements demonstrate his ability to work together with people to accomplish things.

"When people who are leaders in our community stand up and endorse me and put their name on my supporters list, it lets me know that the Sheriff's Office is on the right track. We are going to continue forward and we are going to work hard and are going to continue making great improvements for the Seeley Lake community and all of Missoula County."

Wafstet (I): Dr. Steven Tubby defined the purpose of law enforcement is service, justice and fundamental fairness. In the Sheriff's Office right now, there is an issue of fundamental fairness, the application of law. As an independent candidate, Wafstet wants to return the focus of the Sheriff's Office back to due process. He is running as an independent candidate because due process should be applied equally to everyone and not just the political supporters.

Wafstet brought up the elephant in the room and addressed the signs that were posted outside of the building that attacked him and another candidate and "were obviously placed by supporters of the current sheriff." He said that demonstrates the mentality that is perpetrated under the current leadership. It's unhealthy and it affects the citizens because the officers that experience this kind of behavior, it makes it really hard for officers to come out and do our jobs when that sort of things becomes the norm. "I would like to return the focus to due process and do the right thing for the community of Missoula and Missoula County."

Clark (D): In the last election and this one, Clark promises that he will safeguard public trust that is given to the Sheriff's Office. He will protect citizens' rights, including the second amendment. They need to have the right people wearing the badge and when they screw up, they need to be addressed. He agreed with Wafstet who said a sheriff must be strong to stand up and hold cops accountable.

Clark said he and his wife were barred entry to the candidate forum. "That referenced me standing up for you and saying five months is too long to hear about excessive force. That was a direct intimidation." Clark said he won't be intimidated for the citizens or anyone else. He will help the citizens and will protect their rights. He asked everyone to look at the candidates, look at the issues, and read everyone's websites and educate yourself.


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