An email from a Missoula police officer – writing as a private citizen on a personal email account – to University of Montana administrators and boosters expressing his concerns about alleged sexual assaults at UM provoked a quick reprimand by the mayor.
“I am writing to urge you all to stop this spiraling PR mess and take action instead of trying to defend your actions,” Geoff Curtis wrote at about 11 p.m. on Feb. 29.
At 5:46 a.m. on March 1, UM Vice President Jim Foley wrote Missoula Mayor John Engen: “Is he not a city policeman?”
“He is,” Engen wrote two hours later. “My apologies. We’re talking to him as soon as possible this morning.”
But even before Foley received that response, he’d emailed Curtis’ missive to UM President Royce Engstrom, saying: “He is a Missoula city police officer.”
Curtis declined to comment on the email when contacted by the Missoulian. It was among several emails received as part of a joint Freedom of Information Act request by the Missoulian and the Wall Street Journal, regarding a months-long investigation by UM into alleged sexual assaults on and off campus.
“He was off duty and on his personal email,” Deputy Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady reiterated Friday. Brady was unsure whether Curtis had ever apologized in person to UM.
But he was ordered to.
The next day, Engen emailed Engstrom, Foley, Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir, Brady and Missoula Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Bender:
“In additional to an emailed apology to all addressees of the note you received from my police officer, Geoff Curtis, Officer Curtis will be requesting a moment of your time in the near future to offer an apology in person for the inappropriate message and its content.
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“You also have my apologies. I am embarrassed, especially given all the progress I think we’ve made in the last week, by this note that suggests we’re not informed, measured or thoughtful in our approach to the complex issues of ending sexual assault in our community.”
Then-UM athletic director Jim O’Day added to the email chain: “Could (Curtis) be the ‘anonymous source’ who is providing them (the Missoulian) with information? Interesting coincidence. Wonder if he was one of the officers involved in the tasing incident?”
“Yes,” Foley replied, “and no.”
No Missoula police officer has made anything other than a public statement to the Missoulian about any sexual assault allegation, including those allegedly involving UM students. The “tasing incident” referred to an October postgame party during which police tased UM Grizzlies quarterback Gerald Kemp and cornerback Trumaine Johnson. The two players later pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge.
Engstrom fired O’Day and football coach Robin Pflugrad in March, saying only that change was needed.
The Missoulian attempted to contact university officials for comment on this story. Engstrom is in Australia until Tuesday and Foley’s voicemail box was full. He did not respond to requests for comment via text messages or emails to his work and personal accounts.
On Friday, Engen termed Curtis “pretty passionate about his university. It was just one of those situations where it probably was not the most appropriate choice, given what his career choice is.”
While Engen said “there was an offer (to apologize) during a particular meeting. I don’t think we need to do it today.”
Later, he texted the Missoulian to say that “Curtis is a really good young officer and his was a minor mistake born of good intentions.”