Douglas Hartsell

Douglas Hartsell appears at a hearing before Judge Robert "Dusty" Deschamps in Missoula in September.

A former Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy has received a deferred prosecution agreement on allegations he choked a man in handcuffs during an arrest in November 2017.

The agreement, according to Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher, requires Doug Hartsell to obey all laws and prohibits him from working in law enforcement over the agreement's one-year term. No fines or counseling are sought through the agreement, the prosecutor said.

Eschenbacher filed to dismiss the case Jan. 23, and the judge granted the dismissal the next day. Eschenbacher said, per his agreement with Hartsell's attorney, the deferred prosecution agreement will not be released and will not be available to the public in court filings. 

Missoula County Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled if Hartsell doesn't abide by the conditions in the agreement.

Eschenbacher was made special prosecutor on the case by Missoula officials last year. He said Monday he didn't believe he had enough evidence to secure a conviction at trial, and that the victim had been uncooperative "with everybody."

He added, however, that the message from the resolution of Hartsell's case should be one of solidarity and trust with law enforcement. 

"I'm looking at a case, in my warm office," he said. "And these guys are out in the cold. I need to look at serving justice and I think this is the best way to do it.

"I hope people understand this was investigated. I'm glad Sheriff [T.J.] McDermott opened this up to investigation. It would have been easy to sweep it under the rug," Eschenbacher said. 

Brandon Shea, whom Hartsell was alleged to have strangled in November 2017, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Hartsell was charged with one felony count of mistreating prisoners in December. After three other deputies filed an internal report approximately a year earlier, the sheriff's office began an internal probe while handing the official investigation over to the state Division of Criminal Investigation. That agency sent its investigative findings to the Missoula County Attorney's Office, who asked Lake County to consider filing charges based on those findings. 

Milt Datsopoulos, Hartsell's attorney, was not immediately available for comment. After charges were filed in December, Datsopoulos told the Missoulian that, after reviewing the former deputy's body camera footage, he believed Hartsell is innocent.

The body camera footage, like the deferred prosecution agreement, has not been publicly released.

"We take all allegations of excessive use of force very seriously," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Brenda Bassett. "We're pleased [Hartsell's case] has come to a resolution."

Hartsell left the department on medical leave in 2018 while still the subject of an excessive force investigation spurred by a report from the three other deputies. They claimed he had strangled an uncooperative man they were placing under arrest. The medical leave, the sheriff said at the time, was brought on by an injury unrelated to the arrest in question. 

Charging documents filed in December say Shea was resisting arrest when he kicked Hartsell in the stomach. The other deputies on scene say that's when Hartsell grabbed Shea by the throat. As one deputy tried to pull Hartsell off the man in handcuffs, Hartsell reportedly turned around and said, "Don't ever [expletive] pull me off a guy again," according to the charging documents.

A deferred prosecution agreement means the charges will be wiped from Hartsell's record if he completes the terms of the agreement through the one-year period.

The Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council, which oversees trainings, certifications and complaints for all law enforcement officers in the state, told the Missoulian last week a complaint against Hartsell was on hold pending the outcome of his criminal case.

Perry Johnson, executive director of POST, said Monday the council will begin its own investigation to determine if Hartsell may have violated the state's Code of Ethics for law enforcement. 

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