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Allegations against West Yellowstone Police Chief detailed in new report

By Colin Cashin, KTVM Reporter, ccashin@ktvm.com
Published On: Jul 06 2014 07:12:38 PM MDT
WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. -

A summary of an investigation done by the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation detailing allegations made against West Yellowstone Police Chief Gordon Berger was released last Tuesday, July 1st.

West Yellowstone is right on the border of Yellowstone National Park, about 90 miles South of Bozeman.

In December of 2013, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin requested an investigation into Chief Berger through the Department of Justice as part of ongoing allegations against Berger.

In May, the town petitioned to get investigation details, saying they need the information to decide if administrative action should be taken against Chief Berger.

It lists seven allegations that investigators say are supported by eyewitnesses or documented evidence:

1. There is evidence that Berger selectively enforced certain laws and town ordinances and directed WYPD officers and other personnel not to issue citations to certain people.

2. There is evidence that Berger advised WYPD officers to conduct traffic stops if the officers observed people talking on cell phones and to cite them for Careless Driving. Such direction is contrary to law. West Yellowstone does not have an ordinance that prohibits it and Montana law requires probable cause that a crime has been or is being committed before an officer can legally stop a vehicle.

3. There is evidence that Berger has violated court orders regarding some individuals. Berger did not follow other orders. This relates to Defendants sentenced to jail and drug testing. There is also evidence that Berger obstructed other officers from following the laws regarding implied consent.

4. There is substantial evidence that Berger did not follow the laws relating to the sale of city property or abandoned vehicles.

5. There is evidence that Berger was involved in at least two occasions of helping individuals obtain Montana vehicle titles for vehicles that had been reported stolen from Idaho and that, in the very least, he did not conduct thorough VIN inspections.

6. There are several allegations of Berger either not knowing the law or choosing not to follow the law. This relates to a partner or family member assault case where Berger refused to release the children to their mother; has advised officers not to make arrests in such cases if medical attention is necessary for the suspect until after the suspect is released from the hospital; and has requested canine searches of cars without probable cause.

7. There is evidence that Berger was involved in an incident where there was a convicted felon in possession of a gun, did not seize the gun, did not arrest the felon and did not complete an investigative file on the incident. The felon was later arrested in Idaho for being in possession of a firearm, which is a felony offense.

We spoke to West Yellowstone tourists who were unaware of the controversy, but couldn't believe it when we told them about the allegations made against the town's chief of police.

"Yeah, It surprises me. Seems like a safe place to be," said visitor Howie Thomas.

Another tourist, Cindy Hoffman, said, "It's a very calm town. So I can't imagine anything bad happening here."

We talked to Chief Berger on the phone Sunday, but he hadn't had a chance to read the investigation summary. He along with his attorney told us they had no comment.