LIBBY – Authorities called it a hunting accident when a Colorado man was shot on property he owns south of Libby in November.

It didn’t take long for it to morph into a case where multiple online accusations tried to tie the shooting to a controversial proposed mine in the area, while alleging a cover-up by local law enforcement.

The hunter, who has pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanors in connection with the shooting, is an out-of-work miner, the accusations said. The gunshot victim was an “outspoken opponent” of the proposed Montanore Mine, and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was guilty of attempting to portray the hunter as a “hero” and failing to investigate the mine angle.

Alternative One, a citizens’ group that opposes the mine, went so far as to issue a news release earlier this month saying it had written to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with a “chilling account” of the incident and requesting a criminal racketeering investigation into “the suspicious shooting … and subsequent cover-up.”

There is, however, one key person who doesn’t buy into a drop of any of this. His name is John Cleveland.

He’s the man who has questioned aspects of the proposed mine, and who Michael Wagner allegedly shot on Nov. 16 after pursuing a wounded deer onto Cleveland’s property off Libby Creek Road.

***

John Cleveland remains hospitalized in Denver, two months after a bullet from a .300 Winchester Magnum ripped through his right leg while he was scouting for animal tracks on his 1,000-acre property outside Libby.

Cleveland, 60, has been through three hospitals and eight or more surgeries – “My wife keeps track, I’ve lost count,” he says – with another key operation still a month down the road.

“The real issue is I’m missing 3 inches of my right femur,” Cleveland told the Missoulian from his hospital room in a telephone interview last week. “I’ll have orthopedic surgery in a month to address that. They’ll take a piece off my left hip, fashion it into a facsimile of a femur, attach it with bolts and screws and let it grow back together.”

Already uncomfortable with publicity surrounding the case, Cleveland consented to an interview only to make clear that he does not believe in the conspiracy theories being espoused online and by Alternative One.

“If Mr. Wagner were out to kill me, he wouldn’t have taken me halfway to the hospital,” says Cleveland, who was met by an ambulance and transported the rest of the way after the shooting. “He would have turned and walked away, and I’d be dead.”

***

“I don’t think there’s any cover-up on the part of the sheriff’s department, and I don’t think there’s any weird stuff going on here,” Cleveland says. “I think the facts speak for themselves. I don’t believe this conspiracy theory, that someone was paid by mine management to kill me. People who have that view are kidding themselves.”

As laid out in court documents that charged Wagner, 48, with negligent endangerment, unlawful hunting from a public highway and failure to obtain landowner permission for hunting, prosecutors allege this is what happened on Nov. 16:

Wagner, while hunting with his son, illegally shot and wounded a buck on Libby Creek Road, then passed a “no trespassing” sign to pursue the wounded animal onto Cleveland’s property.

An affidavit from Lincoln County deputy sheriff Brad Dodson says Wagner chased the blood trail through trees and crossed a creek, where he arrived at a clearing and “heard crashing ahead of him.”

“Michael said he saw movement the same color as the buck, put his crosshairs on it and shot,” according to Dodson’s affidavit. “Michael saw what he thought was the buck go down and went to where it was. Michael saw gray hair and realized he had shot a man.”

After helping Cleveland adjust the tourniquet Cleveland already had applied, Wagner returned to the road. He and his son drove to Cleveland’s cabin, then, on foot, followed Cleveland’s tracks into the forest. Wagner’s son, Brian, remained with the victim while Wagner returned to get the truck. He shot a lock off a gate in order to drive to the shooting scene.

The Wagners loaded Cleveland in the truck and began driving toward Libby, stopping along the way to ask a resident to call 9-1-1. That’s why an ambulance was dispatched, and intercepted the Wagner truck.

***

For the shooting to have been a plan to retaliate against someone who has spoken against aspects of the Montanore Mine, it seems obvious a lot of things had to fall inexplicably into place.

The buck would have had to appear on the road at the right time, Wagner would have to have intentionally wounded it, then hoped the animal would run onto Cleveland’s property.

Just as coincidentally, Wagner also needed Cleveland to appear in the right place on his 1,000 acres at the right time so he could be intentionally mistaken for the deer.

If the theory is that there was no wounded deer to begin with, then the alleged cover-up might well have to be expanded to include Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Forest Service.

Both had officers on the scene during the Nov. 16 investigation. It was FWP game warden Tamie Laverdure who asked for help in locating the injured deer, according to the court documents, and Dodson who found and dispatched the animal.

The deer was photographed. The meat was distributed to the local food pantry. Some online posters have argued the killing of the buck constituted the destruction of evidence.

“The allegation of a cover-up is absolutely absurd,” Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe told the Missoulian. “The allegation that the shooting had anything to do with the mine is crazy. I think this is just people trying to get their agenda out there, to further their cause and get some publicity. It’s just a crying shame.”

***

The 1,000 acres have been in Cleveland’s family for 125 years. His great-grandfather filed mining claims on it in the late 1800s.

“It’s an old-line Butte family on my mother’s side,” Cleveland says. “We have longtime ties to the area.”

Cleveland has spoken out over concerns about the proposed Montanore Mine, but says it would be ridiculous to label him anti-mining.

“I used to be a hard-rock geologist,” says Cleveland, who now works for a Colorado company involved in natural resource finance. “I started my career in mining.”

But he did have concerns about Montanore.

“I have made comments in opposition to what had been proposed as not being right,” Cleveland says. “I’m not opposed to mining per se, but I am opposed to certain aspects of Montanore Mine.”

Chief among them, Cleveland says, were how the mine proposed to deal with tailings disposal.

“I don’t want my water contaminated, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Cleveland says. “But in Libby, if you express any kind of opposition, people assume you’re totally against mining, and that’s not necessarily the case.”

***

Cleveland had arrived from Denver the night before he was shot. He does say reports that he was hunting at the time of the shooting are inaccurate.

“I was opening up the cabin, and decided to walk around, scout things out and see where the tracks were,” he says.

He didn’t put on an orange vest because he wasn’t hunting, Cleveland says – just walking on his own property posted with “no trespassing” signs – and could have as easily been searching for a Christmas tree as big-game tracks.

Unable to put any weight on his right leg since he was shot, Cleveland hasn’t walked on his own since Nov. 16. He was initially taken to St. John’s Lutheran Hospital in Libby, and then transferred to Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

Among the four to five surgeries he underwent in Kalispell was one to place a temporary steel rod in the gap in his femur. He was moved to a Denver hospital after two weeks in Kalispell.

***

Some online posters have focused on an initial Libby newspaper account of the shooting that stated Wagner applied the tourniquet to Cleveland – which is not true – as evidence the sheriff’s office tried to turn the accused hunter into a “hero.”

What happened was Cleveland applied the tourniquet, then asked for Wagner’s help in adjusting it once Wagner reached him.

The news release from the sheriff’s office did not say Wagner put the tourniquet on Cleveland, but did say Wagner “helped apply” it.

“The Montanore connection is a logical and very probable one if you have any real knowledge whatsoever about those involved,” reads a comment to a story about the incident on one newspaper website. “The charges against the gunman are ridiculous, given that he nearly killed a man. Much, much more needs to be said about this incident, and I for one admire those who refuse to ignorantly accept a story full of holes and contradictions.”

However, one man who was involved – and has a 3-inch hole in his right femur to prove it – says the idea that the shooting had anything to do with Montanore is ridiculous.

“The facts tell the story,” John Cleveland says from his hospital bed.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or by email at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

(29) comments

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

Yes, the "jobs are just around the corner" claims and the financial shenanigans continue. I believe that Glenn Dobbs, Montanore's hedge fund manager CEO spent some time in court on financial mismanagement/fraud charges. As a result of the inevitable comparisons to Madoff, people took to calling him "Baby Bernie."

chinook223
chinook223

One reason for all the slobber is the effective propaganda campaign that MGN has been running for more than a decade. The promise of jobs and local business revenue looks as good to the average Libby blue collar worker as a big ol' slab of elk looks to a hungry weiner dog. The problem is that, like a ten-year-old slab of meat, MGN's job promises are long past rotten. Meanwhile, the board members and execs continue to enrich their personal bank accounts with insider trading profits. If you look at MGN press releases from 2005 and 2013, you'll see the same phrases that indicate they expect to get the permits they need to start exploratory drilling within a couple of months' time.

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

Maybe "montanabound" needs to slow down and read my posts. I have not changed my view on the shooting. Pointing out problems with what passes as law enforcement in Toxic Town and Montanore's unsavory history only bolsters the case for an independent investigation. I can't believe people even live in Libby. It is certainly no place to raise children. Thanks to environmentally criminal mining practices the town is kind of like the Chernobyl of the Mountain West. It does make you wonder why they are slobbering all over themselves for Montanore.

Montanabound
Montanabound

Its just amazing how Angel and Stu moved away from their original conspiracy premiss to a Montanore is the devil premiss. AltOnes reputation in the environmental community is, at best, questionable. While the founder is still on the run for failing to maintain probationary requirement for a forgery conviction anything from the group needs to be scrutinized. The end of the day there is very little opposition for a middle of nowhere project that will bring needed jobs to Montana. There efforts would be better spent trying to stop the mega loads.

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

The alternativeone website makes the mine supporters and the company squirm. The information about Montanore's plan and the destruction it would cause is not sugar coated. If you didn't know what to think about the mine and spent a few hours studying the facts they lay out you would probably become an opponent. At first I wasn't pleased when I saw that they had taken up this story about the Montanore assassination attempt. Now I think it's a good thing to have a broad based citizens group pushing for an investigation.

Stu Gotz
Stu Gotz

My friend in Santa Fe did some volunteer work with the investor education program. She says that it's not even real Montanore office staff who spread the lies and repeat the talking points. The CEO, his son, and a couple of their pals run the show and spend most of their time managing their hedge funds. These aren't mining people. All they are doing is using our tax dollars to get Montanore to the point where they can unload it and make a boatload of cash. These posts that you read are all done by a couple of bored, uneducated guys from Libby. Of course they hide behind their screen names and just make it up as they go along. There is no truth at all to the majority of what they say. Most of this garbage about Alternativeone is a product of their imaginations, but they are obsessed with keeping the truth about Montanore from seeing the light of day. They appeal to the simple minded, which explains why their only followers live in and around Libby. If anybody from the FBI or Justice Department is reading this, my vote is for a full blown investigation of Montanore.

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

Good insight, Stu. Do we detect a little jumpiness in the executive suite? First they send out some guy who claims the mine permitting is going swimmingly and tries to minimize and discredit the opposition. Then, for no apparent reason, their stock price takes a dramatic, temporary leap. I know the company has been investigated and that the CEO runs a bunch of offshore shell corporations, but doesn't this seem like an unwise move? If there really is a conspiracy here it would have been smart to have charged the sniper with some real crimes. Hunters are wondering what's up--why they are treating the guy like a two year old who just spit out his Cheerios. Even if the outlandish tale is true, the sniper should be forced to answer to some serious charges. BTW, he "admits" all of this stuff to the sheriff, then pleads not guilty. Most of the environmental groups are doing what they usually do. They educate the public, get involved in making comments, sue when the time comes.
Alternative One is different kind of national citizens group. They act more like whistle blowers, keep an eye on the company's conduct, educate potential investors.

Stu Gotz
Stu Gotz

I am a longtime Montanore watcher and as sad as this shooting is for the victim I have to laugh at how the story is playing out. I hope that you Alternativeone bashers don't actually work for Montanore because you have fallen into a trap and are blowing it in a big way.

You do realize that it took Alternativeone almost six weeks to take on this story, right? Some of us were on it right from the beginning, so a little Internet buzz was already there. Alternativeone knew about the company and the mine, so they dug around a little, issued a press release, put some stories on their website and instantly jacked up the volume.

All they asked for was an investigation. They didn't claim to know what happened. The victim must at least suspect he was a target but wanted his name out of the press and tried to put out the fire. All you people can do is run your mouths about how well the mine permitting is going (which is obviously a lie) and bash this Rose guy who isn't even involved in any of this.

Now the whole mine opposition thing is back in the news. Those of us outside of Libby know Montanore is in trouble. Instead of working within today's realities, which include organized mine opposition by environmentalists, Montanore tries to roll over their opponents.

You need to learn a thing or two about how grassroots organizations that are obviously operating with huge disadvantages level the playing field and sometimes win. It works best when their position has a lot of support. You, my friends, have been played.

Montanabound
Montanabound

The good that came out of AltOnes conspiracy press release cased investors to take a look at stock. The stock is up over 20% since the press release. At he end of the day there is still a mine in Montana that is almost completed with it's re-permitting process. All of the altone press releases and multiple aliases on this and other web sites can’t stop the permitting process. The credibility and questionability along with the criminal background of the founders still raises concerns around the environmental community.

Itsmontana
Itsmontana

It appears that AltOne clearly overplayed their hand. So wishing something would make sense on there own misleading information will not make it right. The remaining member of Altone, Lynne Haley Rose, ( AKA Lynne Haley), is not responding to my emails any longer. Mines Management still has a mine near the end of it’s re permitting process. Additional issues will come up and will continue to be addressed. This tragic acceded is just that - a tragic accident. One of 123 that happened this hunting season.

MiddleFinger
MiddleFinger


Straight out of the Jason Bourne playbook...

Killing the landowner would do what? Force the issue into the courts and keep the conspiracy fires for years?

How's about dropping a dime (sized hole) on Cleveland. It's too hard to believe any premeditated intent was present (except the fact much of Montana was founded on such nobel principles), but it sounds like that was the point.

Either way, my dog has left this fight, but if you're smart, think about coincidence. Once...maybe. Two...never. I don't need to rationalize every detail, just give it a little haircut with Occam's Razor.

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

Most likely the perps wouldn't be the sharpest tools in the shed. Also, if you are a rabid mine supporter you have long ago discarded truth and logic. There is the promise of jobs, man, even if their true cost is astronomical. Then there are the get-rich-quick guys who were suckered or ignorant enough to actually invest in this turkey when its share price was triple what it is now.

The landowner wrote highly detailed comments on the mine and may have the strongest court case of anyone if and when the litigation flies. He has already tangled with Montanore in court when he tried to stop them from taking his property. His objections to the tailings dump could force the company to do yet another Environmental Impact Statement--at least another two year delay.

The company is quickly running out of money. They are already in trouble because they lost a claim jumping case last summer. They probably want to sell, but with mounting problems the mine's value has plunged. They can't exactly eliminate the Sierra Club or the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Again, they may well see the landowner as a bigger problem. And he's is just one guy, not an entire organization.

Blinded by arrogance and pro mine mania and emboldened by the knowledge that the sheriff was in their pocket, nobody expected "conspiracy fires".

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

I thought my previous comments were pretty clear, but Objective Observer and Itsmontana sound like a couple of Toxic Towners, so I'll try again. Aside from having to recover from serious injuries, courtesy of the sniper attack, Cleveland also needs to prepare for inevitable battles with Montanore over his land and water. This may involve court cases in front of a Toxic Town judge. If he continues to spend time at his Montana property he will patronize Toxic Town businesses. Even if he suspects foul play in the shooting, it's unlikely he can do much with it. After all, the sheriff is essentially a criminal, so what chance does he stand if he demands an additional investigation? The shooter is an unemployed miner, so what's the point of a civil suit? What will he do, have the sheriff confiscate the guy's truck and cache of weapons? Cleveland has chosen to take the high road, at least for now. Yes, he is trying to stop the mine. It will either destroy his land or cause him to lose at least some of it. No, he doesn't oppose mining. No, the mine won't enhance the value of his land. That may be the single most absurd statement I have heard in months. Let's try this again--it is possible to support mining and oppose Montanore. Maybe the next time U.S. taxpayers are called on to bail out Libby from a mining disaster the funds should come with a caveat--no more environmentally hostile mines for Toxic Town. Maybe that would be the most efficient way to stop Montanore.

Objective observer
Objective observer

The more you type, the less we know.

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

I must admit that the question of why the sniper ended up saving the victim is a good one, but there are plausible explanations. One is that he never intended to kill the victim in the first place but wanted to send him a warning. Another is that things didn't go as planned and the sniper had to make the best of a bad situation. It's certainly possible that the "saving the victim" part was designed to give him a good alibi. It could be that there is an entirely different explanation for the incident. What I and some others have been saying is that given the bad history of the mine thugs, Cleveland's run ins with Montanore, and Sheriff Roby Bowe's tarnished reputation there needs to be an independent investigation. Now that Alternative One has picked up on this the crazies are falling out of their bar stools, scrambling to find the nearest WiFi hotspot. They thought they had eliminated Montanore's biggest threat, but they never bothered to figure out what was really going on with the opposition. Alternative One took the fight outside of Libby and concentrated on organizing opponents on a national level. There is a serious disconnect in Libby because they can kick and scream as much as they want--local support in and of itself is a minor factor in permitting the mine. The environmental groups have built a broad base of opposition. This has dramatically slowed down the process and drained Montanore's coffers.

Itsmontana
Itsmontana

..but Angel - have they found the founder of alternative one who is still on the run for jumping probation for a check forgery scam. Of course in your mind that to was a Lincoln County Sheriff set up - right. There is no environmental objection to the re permitting of this project, just a single person on a side of the hill very bitter about how her ex-hunband lied to her for so long. You can try to spin that anyway you want.

Objective observer
Objective observer

"One is that he never intended to kill the victim in the first place but wanted to send him a warning. Another is that things didn't go as planned and the sniper had to make the best of a bad situation. It's certainly possible that the "saving the victim" part was designed to give him a good alibi."

Do you realize how ridiculous you sound? And then you post this "Now that Alternative One has picked up on this the crazies are falling out of their bar stools, scrambling to find the nearest WiFi hotspot."

You mean like you did to post your comment?

chinook223
chinook223

Nice article, Mr. Devlin, and it's great that there are still a few reporters out there who follow up on a story. However, your article is based on a shaky premise -- that the information the Lincoln County Sheriff Office provided is factual. Remember that a current federal lawsuit is already calling the veracity of Sheriff Bowe and his cohorts into question. Didn't they report that the victim stated he was hunting and forgot to wear orange, and didn't the victim tell you otherwise? Hmmm. I for one choose not to suspend my disbelief quite yet.

Objective observer
Objective observer

You can choose to suspend or not suspend your disbelief whenever you want to. But until you explain why a "hit man" would take his victim to the hospital, you have no leg to stand on.

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

I don't know about you, but I choose to use my entire brain. In other words, I don't think like most Libbyites. Montanore already confiscated (through eminent domain) more than 200 acres of Cleveland's land. In the article he mentions the tailings impoundment, which is a huge problem because everybody knows that Montanore's chosen site is too small. Not only will they foul his water, they may well end up trying to take more land. Cleveland is doing what he thinks is prudent, which is to focus on what's most important. He may well have to fight Montanore in the Superfund Site District Court, as well as in Federal Court if the mine gets the green light. He also has to be able to show his face in Toxic Town. Why pursue this when he doesn't even live there? The fact is some of Montanore's cheerleaders have gotten a little big for their jack boots, and have left a bit of a trail. Who knows, maybe the FBI will do its job.

Itsmontana
Itsmontana

Angel: As enjoyable as your small minded conspiracy mentality goes what does John Cleveland do for a living? I'll give you a hint - he is a finance expert for natural resource developments. In other words he is doing exactly what he should be doing to maximize the value of his holdings. His goal is not to stop the mine, but to realize the enhance value that the mine will bring. Back to square one for you. Your imagined conspiracy falls on so many levels

Objective observer
Objective observer

Blah blah blah blah blah. You still haven't explained why a "hit man" would take his victim to the hospital.

Also you asked: "Why pursue this when he doesn't even live there?"
He has every right to own property where he does and also has the right to work to protect the property value. Yet even though someone shot him, he realizes it wasn't a guy related to the mine trying to silence him. Why can't you accept that?

Itsmontana
Itsmontana

Angel Eyes: Nice try. You can spin it any way you want, but your conspiracy angle just fails the sniff test. Back to square one for you. The re permitting of the mine continues.

Angel Eyes
Angel Eyes

Wow! This says a lot about the respective reputations of Montanore and the Sheriff in Lincoln County. There is so much suspicion about the "hunting accident" story that the Missoulian did a follow up on it. Also, a citizens' group conducted its own investigation and saw fit to contact Federal authorities. If there is something fishy going on here, it's good to know Alternativeone is on top of it. They have been spot on when it comes to Montanore. It's hard to know what to make of Mr. Cleveland's comments. How much does he know about what really happened? Does he have access all of the evidence that others have? I can't imagine he wants to throw fuel on the fire. He has roots in the area and has serious medical issues. Let's hope he recovers.

someguy
someguy

How much does Mr. Cleveland know about what really happened??? Clearly more than you or your crazy friends at "Alternativeone".

Roger
Roger

I wouldn't call it a "hunting accident" - it's pure negligence, since the hunter did not properly identify his target - not to mention the fact that he was trespassing.

Bittersweet
Bittersweet

What just happened here?

Itsmontana
Itsmontana

As tragic as this is it just goes to show what happened when well intended, but ill informed people will post on on-line forms. Alternative One, as a opposition group, disbanded shortly after one of their founders was arrested for forgery. Skipping parole, he is still on the run. Now the last member is trying to suggest that this tragic accident was a Montanore set up. As the permitting of the mine gets closer the people need to realize that mis direction and out right lies from any opposition group will only get stranger. Hats off to the Missoulian for exposing this group for what they are.

Objective observer
Objective observer

Some of those comments suggesting that this was related to Montanore were made on this forum. I rightly pointed out that if the guy had wanted to kill him, he wouldn't have driven him partway to the hospital. Conspiracy theorists almost always have to ignore evidence for their theories to have any merit. They don't have merit here.

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