In its first weekend putting the Missoula County Sheriff's Office on live broadcast, Live PD and the production crew's accompanying deputies have drawn allegations of "hamming it up" for good television — but the Sheriff's Office strongly defended a stop in question as appropriate.
Anna Baldwin described her son's Sept. 21 experience in a letter published in the Missoulian on Tuesday. Baldwin, the 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year, expanded on her son's experience in a phone interview with the Missoulian on Tuesday.
Baldwin, of Arlee, said her son was parked at the Wye, "collecting himself" and preparing to drive home up Evaro Hill after receiving some distressing personal news, when he was approached by a deputy sheriff. Her son, 15, told Baldwin the encounter had been friendly and professional until camera crews rolled up on the scene.
Then, she said Capt. Bill Burt became aggressive with her son. Her son said the officer repeatedly told him "Don't lie to me" about how much he had been drinking and conducted field sobriety tests outside his car.
"The biggest thing I worry about is the effect of the camera on the person who is being filmed," Baldwin said in a phone interview with the Missoulian on Tuesday, "whether that's the office, maybe hamming it up a little bit for effects, or the person being sought, in this case, my son. And he was humiliated. He thought he was going to be on TV for all the wrong reasons."
Baldwin's son, who is not being named because he is a minor, was not charged with any crime or arrested. He was instead turned over to his parents shortly after Burt, rushed off to an accident scene elsewhere. Another deputy on scene told Baldwin her son would not be on TV because he is a minor, she said.
"It’s completely appropriate for law enforcement to conduct welfare checks on vehicles parked in an unusual way," Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott told the Missoulian in an emailed statement late Tuesday. "Capt. Burt noted a despondent person inside a motor vehicle, who was slumped over the wheel, crying and looking at his phone. Capt. Burt checked on this subject to make sure he was okay. Capt. Burt determined the subject was a teenager, conducted field sobriety maneuvers and instructed the male to notify his parents.
"Capt. Burt responded to another call and another deputy remained with the subject until his mother arrived," McDermott added. "LivePD film crew was with Burt, but the incident was NOT televised."
Questions have arisen about Live PD's operations across the country, with a number of counties kicking the production company out of town or staving off lawsuits from suspects who were filmed. In Williamson County, Texas, for example, officials there terminated the county's contract with Big Fish Entertainment because of questions regarding the footage collected and whether it should be turned over as evidence.
Still, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was supportive of the show, and extended his congratulations to the Missoula County Sheriff's Office in a Sept. 15 tweet.
You have free articles remaining.
The show's national exposure may also benefit law enforcement here. On Friday, the first day the Missoula County Sheriff's Office went national, Live PD aired a segment on Jermain Charlo, who went missing from Missoula in June 2018, a Missoula Police Department case, despite the production company's contract being with county law enforcement.
Last week, county commissioners questioned Sheriff McDermott about airing citizens who have not been convicted of crimes.
McDermott previously told the Missoulian his office worked with the county's risk management department and county attorney's office before agreeing to a contract with the show. He believed the due diligence done by his office, and the intentions he understood from the production, had chilled any concerns that Live PD could spell trouble.
McDermott said producers seemed more interested in showing Montana's wild side — downtown Moose, bears in laundry closets and search and rescue operations in the backwoods — and had no desire to air sensitive material to the national audience.
After Missoula County's first televised appearance, McDermott said he had received an "overwhelming amount of support and positive feedback from our community, about the professionalism of our deputies and the missing person segment regarding Jermain Charlo that aired to a national audience."
Baldwin said she understands exactly why law enforcement approached her son's vehicle. He had parked diagonally in a large open lot, which could appear suspicious, she said.
"I understood why the police thought there was something wrong with him, maybe he was drunk or sick or something," Baldwin said.
What she didn't understand is why Burt didn't wave off the cameras once he learned, by looking at his driver's license, that her son was a minor. Live PD films now with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office all week to gather filler footage for when the show hits a slow spot. But when the cameras are rolling live, they have the same allowances as the news media, such as the scene of a vehicle crash.
Filming in Missoula County is expected to go on eight to nine weeks, the Sheriff's Office said when it announced the contract in August, calling the selection to appear on the show "an honor."