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Whitefish Interim Police Chief cleared of misconduct

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | February 2, 2022 1:00 AM

State officials have cleared Whitefish Interim Police Chief Bridger Kelch regarding allegations of misconduct.

The Montana Department of Justice's Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Bureau (POST) recently determined allegations against Kelch to be unsubstantiated.

Eric Gilbertson, Bureau Chief for Montana POST Bureau, in a letter to the city on Jan. 21, said the POST case status committee unanimously recommended that the case be closed. Regarding three allegations against Kelch, the letter notes, the committee found that the “investigation failed to discover sufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations.”

Kelch and former Chief Bill Dial, who retired in August 2021 from the position, have been involved in an investigation by POST, which sent a letter to the city in August outlining various allegations against the law enforcement officers.

Kelch said he is pleased with the decision and glad that the city provided a proactive and independent investigation of the allegations.

“I’m happy to move forward,” he said. “The department is happy to move forward and continue focusing on serving the community.”

The case regarding Dial is still being investigated by POST and no date has been set for when the case will go before the committee for review, according to state officials.

KELCH, DIAL and Whitefish businessman Matt Marshall allegedly conspired to entrap a subordinate former officer, Shane Erickson, into committing an apparent ethical violation involving another businessman from Whitefish.

The committee agreed that the allegation against Kelch could not be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence.”

POST also accused Kelch of providing false information to the state Department of Criminal Investigation during its investigation into Dial's conduct. The committee determined that allegation could also not be proven.

A third claim that Kelch provided Marshall, a private citizen, with a key card to the Whitefish Police Department and a radio with access to Whitefish police band transmissions, again could not be proven.

If POST determines the allegations against Dial to be fact it could cost him his law enforcement certification. Dial previously told the Daily Inter Lake that while he had no intention of working in law enforcement again, he intended to fight the allegations and wouldn’t surrender his POST certification.

As required by POST, Whitefish investigated the allegations against Kelch and subsequently provided its own recommendation to POST.

Whitefish City Manager Dana Smith in a letter to POST said the city’s investigation did not result in a preponderance of evidence supporting the allegations against Kelch and recommended that his certification not be removed.

“As City Manager, and Interim Police Chief Bridger Kelch’s direct supervisor, I did meet with Bridger to discuss improvements to our policies made after these, and other, allegations began to surface, as well as the expectations of the Whitefish Police Department moving forward,” Smith said.

Much of the case revolves around text messages between Dial and Marshall, a former CEO for a security company, that show a relationship between the men and their alleged efforts to discredit a former Whitefish police officer who was investigating a case involving another wealthy businessman from Whitefish.

Marshall in November pleaded guilty to charges in U.S. District Court of wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

POST is an independent watchdog for the state's public safety officers. The council, which is part of the Montana Department of Justice, sets employment and training standards for all public safety officers.