Citing hostility from Carbon County officials and a lack of community support, Red Lodge Police Chief Steve Hibler has resigned effective June 30, the Carbon County News is reporting.
The report was posted to the weekly newspaper’s Facebook page shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday and apparently is based wholly or in part on a press release given to the newspaper earlier in the day by Red Lodge Mayor Ed Williams.
Williams was driving back to Red Lodge from Billings Wednesday afternoon and said he couldn’t speak with Last Best News. Hibler was reached at his office and said, in response to questions, “I have no more comments, other than what we put in the press release.”
According to Carbon County News, Hibler said he was leaving because of “a lack of community and county support for his department’s policing programs. The decision was made after lengthy discussions with Mayor Ed Williams over the last few months. ”
The Facebook post continued:
“Williams said that he and the Chief have also ‘been disturbed by the vicious and personal attacks upon them by some elements of the community as well as the lack of any outward significant support from the majority of residents for those community policing programs.’
“’Our police department personnel do not feel they have the support of the community, the Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon, the Carbon County Sheriff Josh McQuillan, or the City council,’ said Williams.”
The mayor apparently was referring to the reaction to a recent Red Lodge police drug bust in Bearcreek, which was not mentioned in the Facebook post. Nixon and McQuillan accused the police department of obtaining a search warrant for the bust—in an incorporated town six miles east of Red Lodge in Carbon County—by falsely saying the raid had been sanctioned by the sheriff’s office.
An assistant state attorney general subsequently decided not to bring charges against two people arrested in the raid and called the operation “inappropriate.” The drug bust also triggered a lawsuit against the city. It was filed by a woman who lived behind the house named in the search warrant, who said she was injured after being handcuffed and wrongfully detained by Hibler and another police officer.
The lawsuit was filed against the city of Red Lodge but separately named Hibler and the other officer, Greg Srock.
On March 17, the Red Lodge City Council called a special meeting that was closed to the public, and Williams refused to say what the subject of the meeting was, other than that it involved a “personnel matter.”
Rumors were flying almost immediately, including the rumor that Hibler had been fired. Hibler and Williams both denied those rumors at the time.
And on Monday, Carbon County News posted a “breaking news” alert on its website, with a headline that read, “Red Lodge Mayor confirms: He is not going anywhere.”
That brief story said:
Red Lodge Mayor Ed Williams is not stepping down contrary to rumors circulating around the town. Williams said that Lance Bourquin, a former Carbon County sheriff, had made the statement.
“Apparently, he went into a downtown business and told them I had resigned. This is another case of the sheriff and the County Government attempting to disrupt our city government,” said Williams.
As of Monday evening Bourquin was unavailable to comment on this story.
Williams had yet more to say about the county in the piece posted on the newspaper’s Facebook page, claiming that “some of the recent actions of the County Attorney and the Sheriff have created a hostile work environment for our police department.”
The piece also said that while Hibler still has two years left on his contract for the city, he “chose to ‘amicably’ end the employee/employer relationship.” It is not clear whether that means he will be compensated for the two remaining years.
Hibler was hired by Williams in May 2014. The Local Rag, a Red Lodge alternative newspaper that ceased publication last year, reported at the time that Hibler’s selection was the “culmination of a months-long search that drew over 60 applicants from all over the country.”
Hibler came to Montana from Indiana, where he was a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard and assistant district commander for the Indiana State Police.
The Local Rag quoted County Attorney Nixon as saying, “We want our new Police Chief to be someone who engages with the community and cooperates with other entities in Carbon County. It’s refreshing to think that we’ll return to a citizen-based point-of-view in policing.”
The article continued: “Eliminating the pervasive ‘us vs. them’ mentality in Red Lodge will also be a key responsibility of the police chief. This is why the whole town was involved in selecting a chief that will lead the department in the direction we want it to go; a chief that will talk with us, interact with us, and retune the RLPD into a set of friendly faces we see all the time instead of a group of people in uniforms that only show up when there’s a problem.”
Late last month, a group of citizens formed a new organization called Community Oversight Representatives, and a spokesman said one of its primary functions was going to be working “with the city administration in keeping our police department professional.”
Update: We have received the press release from Mayor Williams. Here is Page 1:
And Page 2: