Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson has been charged with tampering with evidence and perjury, both felonies, as well as official misconduct, a misdemeanor.
The plaintiff in the case is the state of Montana.
In charging documents, Mary E. Cochenour, assistant attorney general and special deputy Madison County attorney, alleges that Thompson knowingly "took possession of physical evidence that was found on a confidential informant, particularly white powder that tested positive for methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, and removed that evidence, with the purpose to impair its availability in a proceeding or investigation against the confidential informant." The charging documents also allege that Thompson lied under oath and committed these offenses will acting in the official capacity as sheriff of Madison County.
According to documents filed in District Court in Madison County on Sept. 6, the charges stem from an incident that occurred between June 11 and 12, 2017, when an evidence bag containing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia allegedly went missing while reportedly in Thompson's possession.
Court filings say that on March 12, 2018 Mark Hilyard, an agent for the Montana Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation, was assigned to investigate a complaint that Thompson "falsified information in a sworn affidavit in an application for a search warrant."
Hilyard then contacted Madison County Attorney Chris Christensen, who provided Hilyard with relevant reports, court documents and photographs related to the complaint.
Upon investigation, Hilyard learned that on the evening of June 11, 2017 Thompson arranged a drug buy between a confidential informant and Martin James Walsh, a Twin Bridges man who was sentenced in August to 10 years in prison for trafficking methamphetamine.
When the confidential informant met with officers prior to the buy, he and his vehicle were searched. While initial searches turned up no drugs, a later search led to the discovery of a purple Crown Royal bag containing a "butane torch, a glass pipe and a plastic bag with a crystallized powder, which later tested positive for methamphetamine," according to court documents.
Court documents report that an evidence bag containing the contents of the Crown Royal bag and heroin purchased from Walsh were then given to Thompson who allegedly said "he would enter them into evidence."
However, in a search warrant application signed by Thompson and presented to District Court Judge Luke Berger the next day, Thompson wrote that the informant and his vehicle were "free of any drugs."
During his investigation in March, Hilyard ordered Undersheriff Phil Fortner to search the evidence locker where the evidence bag should have been. Fortner was unable to locate the drugs or paraphernalia, according to court filings, but he did provide Hilyard with a photo of the drugs and the pipe found on the informant on June 11.
On May 1 of this year, Hilyard and John Sullivan, another DCI agent, met with Thompson in the Madison County Sheriff's Office, where they reportedly explained the situation and read him his Miranda rights. Thompson allegedly spoke with them about the situation, and the interview was recorded. After searching Thompson's office and evidence locker, the missing drugs and pipe still could not be located.
Based on this alleged timeline, Thompson has been charged with official misconduct, which carries a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum jail term of 6 months; tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a maximum fine of $50,000; and perjury, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a maximum fine of $50,000.
Thompson has been summoned to appear in District Court in Virginia City on Oct. 1, at 10 a.m., for an initial appearance on these charges.
Thompson was not arrested in this matter, and he remains Madison County's acting sheriff, according to Madison County Attorney Chris Christensen. However, the Madison County Board of Commissioners is planning to consider the sheriff's suspension on Tuesday, at 3 p.m., during their regularly scheduled commission meeting.
Bonnie O'Neill, a spokesperson for Madison County, declined to comment on the charges.
As of press time, Thompson had not responded to a request for comment.