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Controversy in Superior over return of a suspended sheriff’s deputy

By Faith Smith, KECI Reporter, fcronin@keci.com
Published On: Sep 19 2013 10:29:45 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

There is controversy in Superior over the return of a suspended sheriff's deputy.

In October of last year Deputy Jim Balenger was placed on leave after a criminal investigation found he had struck and tased an inmate.

Mineral County Sheriff Ernie Ornelas suspended Balenger for more than 9 months during the investigation and now his return is raising the eyebrows of some county officials and residents who say Balenger is a liability

NBC Montana spoke with Kandy Scott, she is inmate DJ Bass’ aunt and she tells us she is appalled Balenger is back at work when she thinks he should be terminated.

“I am standing up for my nephew because what was done to him is unjust,” says Scott.  “To put him in a chair and handcuff him, punch him in the stomach and then tase him - there's no justification for that.”
 
Scott tells us she feels like her nephew was being singled-out by law enforcement officers because of his criminal past and she doesn't understand how the attorney general's office found no wrong doing.

“My nephew weighs about 120 pounds sopping wet so why did it take three full grown men to detain him?” she asks.  “I went to visit him and through the glass he pulled up his shirt and showed me the tase marks and they burned him pretty good.”

NBC Montana attended a meeting in Superior Thursday where Balenger's lawyer Richard Buley told the public his client is innocent and he just wants to go back to work.

“The question you have to ask is why is the county attorney doing this?” says Buley.  “This character assassination and this smear campaign by the county attorney makes absolutely no sense because Jim Balenger was innocent.”

Mineral County Sheriff Ernie Ornelas told the crowd while he felt Balenger may have used 'excessive force,' he feels termination wouldn't be appropriate.

“Law officers make mistakes, nobody is perfect,” says Ornelas.  “I'm not going to argue with what the investigator determined because they are an independent investigator so they are very capable and I accept their findings.”  

As for Scott, she says after living in Superior for more than 14 years, she's so upset that she's thinking about moving.

“I am totally disgusted with Mineral County and our justice system,” she tells NBC Montana.

Mineral County Attorney Marcia Boris is on vacation and when we asked Sheriff Ornelas why he held this meeting when she was out of town he told us he didn't know she was going to be gone.

Balenger has been back to work since July; the meeting tonight was held to help clear the air and Sheriff Ornelas tells us he hopes all parties can move forward from here.