William Daly Harrington, the former East Helena chief of police, admitted in federal court on Tuesday to allegations that he distributed child pornography in 2019 using social media.
U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said in a news release that Harrington, 43 years old, pleaded guilty to distribution of child pornography.
The government alleged that in September 2020, a Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s deputy, who is a member of the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, investigated a tip that Facebook Messenger had reported one of its accounts distributed child pornography to another account.
The investigation determined that the Facebook Messenger account distributing child pornography belonged to Harrington. Account records showed that on December 17, 2019, Harrington sent 11 images using Messenger to another account. Some of the images depicted child pornography.
On January 27, 2021, a search warrant was served on Harrington’s residence in Lewis & Clark County. Law enforcement seized Harrington’s cellular phone, which was analyzed and found to contain images and videos of child pornography. Harrington admitted that he owned and used the Facebook Messenger account that distributed child pornography.
Harrington faces a mandatory minimum of five years to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and five years to a lifetime of supervised release.
A plea agreement in the case calls for the government to request the dismissal of three other counts in an indictment if the court accepts the agreement.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris presided and scheduled sentencing for April 13, 2022. Morris will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Harrington was released pending further proceedings.
Harrington was named the Chief of the East Helena Police Department in 2019; he had been on the force for more than a decade and previously served two terms as the interim police chief.
On February 1, 2021, someone filed a complaint with the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff's Office accusing Harrington of sexual assault.
The City of East Helena placed Harrington on leave on February 3. East Helena leaders contacted the Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation to conduct an investigation and brought in an outside law firm to investigate Harrington's workplace conduct
Roughly a month later, on March 4, East Helena Mayor James Schell notified the Public Safety Officer Standards & Training Council of the allegation. Harrington resigned from the department the following day.
On May 25, Harrington was charged with distributing child pornography in federal court. He surrendered to the FBI and was taken into custody..
The City of East Helena released the report from the outside investigator on June 17. The report expressed concerns over Harrington's behavior, including video monitoring of employees, keeping police personnel files separate from human resources files, and significant overtime for Harrington and other members of the department.
The report also said that East Helena City Leaders didn't provide enough oversight of Harrington.