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County and municipal agencies decline offer of federal help investigating school threats

Posted at 6:16 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 10:59:25-04

HELENA — A letter from Leif Johnson, the acting U.S. Attorney for Montana, arrived at the offices of County Attorneys, law enforcement agencies, and school boards across Montana this week.

The letters offer federal help - including help from the FBI - in any case of threats against school boards and teachers.

The letter included three pages of statutes ranging from conspiracy to depriving a person of their civil rights, to stalking and cyberstalking, and a statute related to false information or hoaxes.

The letter stated: “In response to a nationwide rise in threats and acts of violence against our educational community, Attorney General Garland has directed the FBI and the United States Attorneys to partner with federal, state, local and tribal leaders to address the problem."

Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton says the help is not needed: “I do appreciate their concern, but that is a local issue, and I don't believe that's necessary."

Dutton says that the enforcement agencies within the Helena area are prepared for threats toward school board members and teachers.

“The Helena police and the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office are well equipped to respond and take those types of calls,” Dutton explained.

He says that there have not been local conflicts that have required law enforcement intervention: “Not that I'm aware of, but tensions do get high, though,” noted Dutton

For now, both the the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Cascade County Sheriff's Office have politely declined the FBI’s and US Attorney's offer of assistance on the issue.

Here is the full response from Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter, Cascade County Attorney Joshua Racki, and Great Falls Police Chief Jeff Newton:

Thank you for the email regarding the AG's intention with regards to the FBI investigating matters surrounding threats against school staff and boards. We really appreciated you applauding our local authorities in their handling of these issues. We know you understand the jurisdictional issues present in this context.
The citizens of cascade County do not need assistance from the FBI or any federal agency in addressing this issue. In cascade County, threats and intimidation against the schools, regarding any issue, have always been and will continue to be handled by local law enforcement; the same as the bomb and school shooting threats we handle regularly.
As always, if local law enforcement needs the help of the federal government, we will request it. Having the FBI take part in an investigation of this kind will only lead to confusion and panic amongst the citizens, our bosses.
We represent the people in our communities, and we live here too. We will handle any crimes in our schools because we are accountable to the citizens. They have a direct line of communication to us and we explain our actions to them in a timely manner.
Thank you for your concern for the safety our children, but local law enforcement in Cascade County will handle these investigations.

Click here to read the complete letter from the U.S. Attorney's Office (PDF).