TROY - The tiny three-man police department is in turmoil up in Troy, where the chief has been placed on leave, an officer is under investigation and another has only recently returned to work following suspension.
"It's been a huge distraction," said Don Banning, the town's mayor-elect who has served eight years on the city council.
Banning ran a successful mayoral race this year, campaigning on a promise to replace Police Chief Mitch Walters, "because he has not been doing the job this town requires."
Walters - who was not available for comment Thursday - approached the city council recently with a request that Officer Bob McLeod be fired.
McLeod, Walters told the council, stood accused of improper use of a Taser during an arrest that occurred two years ago. The county attorney previously had found that claim had no merit.
But Chief Walters "wanted him terminated immediately," Banning said.
When the council refused, and instead ordered an investigation into the incident, "the chief was very upset."
Two weeks ago, Officer McLeod was suspended with pay, as the city's insurance company recommended, until the matter could be sorted out.
The next day, Banning said, Walters was sitting in a squad car talking with the remaining officer, Kit Pearson, when he "inadvertently hit the radio button."
And in the conversation that followed - which was transmitted on a public frequency and recorded by dispatchers - Walters and Pearson allegedly made several disparaging remarks about several people, including McLeod, former Deputy John Thrasher and Bob Garrison, a local tow-truck driver who had recently died.
Banning, who has listened to the tape, said Walters and Pearson were "celebrating the fact that Thrasher had been fired, Garrison was dead, and McLeod was going to be gone soon. They said it was going to be a good year - they were clear to do their own thing."
(Coincidentally, Thrasher was fired a year ago after inadvertently activating his squad car radio while having an on-duty sexual affair with a 23-year-old woman. "They broadcast all the details of their ‘relations,' " said Sheriff Daryl Anderson.)
Word of Walters' accidental broadcast spread quickly through the community, where many called for action, Banning said. Walters was suspended - he later told city officials he wanted to resign, effective at year's end - until a state Department of Justice investigation is complete.
"Our investigation is focused on the radio conversation," said Kevin O'Brien, spokesman at the state Department of Justice.
On the advice of the sheriff's department, Pearson was not suspended, "at least to keep one officer on duty," Banning said. "But he's still subject to disciplinary action, depending on the results of the state's investigation."
He expects results from that inquiry to be available as early as next week, and said an independent audit of the police department would be ordered following Walters' resignation.
"It's a mess," Anderson said, "just a real mess."
McLeod, meanwhile, was reinstated on Wednesday, after a review panel unanimously found "absolutely no evidence that he had used excessive force" in the Taser-assisted arrest two years ago, Banning said. The town had come out strongly in support of McLeod, with a "blue-ribbon" campaign, a downtown parade and rally, and even a Facebook site with more than 200 members, called "Support Bob McLeod."
"He's a good man," Banning said. "The town supports him, and we're lucky to have him back."
McLeod, responding on the Facebook page, said the community support was "overwhelming," and that he looked forward to getting back on the job.
As to any lingering tensions between McLeod and Pearson, "they say they can work together," Banning said, "so we'll have to see how that works out. There's only the two of them, now, so one is on day shift and one is on night shift."
Sheriff Anderson, whose deputies have been filling the law enforcement gaps at Troy in recent days, said a new area deputy will be working in Troy full time before month's end.
Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at mjamison @missoulian.com.