It’s been a difficult six months for Cascade County Sheriff Bob Edwards. A newly-released report from the Helena Police Department offered more insight to the events that led to him being charged with misdemeanor assault on June 15, 2017.
"Even though I'm not guilty of a crime, this was a huge eye opener for me,” said Edwards.
Sheriff Edwards says playing golf at a law enforcement conference in Helena in June was the culmination of a great day. But a disagreement with his girlfriend at the end of the round would change his life forever.
"The disagreement carried on back to the motel and a decision was made, we're just going to leave,” said Edwards. “This isn't fun anymore we're just going to go. So during the packing it got loud, it was very loud. I'm not going to candy coat things it was very loud.”
When he left the room, another sheriff asked Edwards if he was responsible for the disturbance. When Edwards said yes, the sheriff told him the Helena Police Department was on its way.
The latest report from the Helena Police Department says some witnesses believed a gun was involved.
“There are people that claim they heard a gun being racked, in other words being loaded numerous times, it doesn't make sense, there was no gun involved,” said Edwards. “Through the investigation they proved there was no gun involved and that's what people don't know and that's one of the reasons I'm doing this interview.”
Edwards was cited with Misdemeanor Partner Family Member Assault, or PFMA. He would also see a judge that same night.
“I want to make it clear I did not ask for any certain type of treatment, that's not fair, that's not right,” said Edwards. “Apparently behind the scenes something was going on to where they called the judge. It’s my understanding the jail was extremely crowded there and they were concerned about my life and my safety in the jail. They came in and they told me I'd be seeing a judge which took me aback, I did not expect that at all. And the judge did like he does with anybody else that's been charged, advised me of my rights, gave me rules, the conditions of release.”
Those conditions included a “cool down” period where Edwards would go to Great Falls and his girlfriend would stay in Helena.
Edwards also wants to clear up any misconceptions about his punishment.
“I had deferred prosecution where I'm not guilty of a crime and the charges are dropped,” said Edwards. “Deferred sentence means guilty, you're convicted of a crime but your sentence is deferred if you behave yourself. So that's the difference and I know there's a lot of confusion out there. People think I've plead guilty to a crime and that I've been sentenced to a deferred sentence. That is not accurate, I have deferred prosecution.”
Edwards says he struggles with breaking his own policy that states employees will not act in any way that brings discredit to themselves or the agency.
“It’s black and white, I brought discredit to the sheriff's office,” said Edwards. “Because what I do represents everybody and I'm doing my best to fix that.”
Edwards took almost two months of personal leave after the incident. He says contrary to what some people have said, he wasn’t on a vacation.
“I was hunkered down at my family's place, at one time I was hunkered down in a motel room so I could be alone, catch my thoughts.” Said Edwards. “Really all I ever did was go to my family's house and then go for walks, long walks.. And I needed that time because I needed to get Bob back and if I didn't get Bob back I couldn't lead the sheriff's office.”
Edwards says the incident also brought out the dark side of social media.
“Don't get me wrong Facebook, instagram, twitter, when used properly is a good tool,” said Edwards. “But you've got that group out there that loves to create hate and discontent they're making comments before being educated on things that's one of the reasons why everybody thinks I plead guilty.”
When he did come back on August 9th, the reaction from staff was mixed.
“It was difficult to walk through that door,” said Edwards. “I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know the reaction I was going to get. Put it this way for a good three weeks, awful quiet around me.”
Through it all, Edwards has marveled at his staff’s professionalism.
“They kept on with the mission and they kept on taking care of the citizens of this county and they took care of each other so I have to give it to them, that's a true team,” said Edwards. “If anybody needs to be mad, they need to be mad at me, don't be mad at my office or my staff because they did nothing wrong.”
Edwards says the last few months have given him a chance to look at life from a new perspective.
“This incident has given me a different opportunity to look at myself,” said Edwards. “It brought me back to a center where I need to be. Is it a hundred percent yet, no. I'm not a perfect man. However, I recognize what needs to happen with Bob the person.”
As part of his agreement, Edwards was ordered to undergo 40 hours of counseling. He says he’s almost doubled that and he still talks to his counselor which he says is not a bad thing.
“Asking for help is not weakness, to me that makes you stronger,” said Edwards. “That's where I'm stronger. So if I had an issue today, I'm picking up the phone and getting help. I'm not afraid to say it, I'm a human being and sometimes we all need help.”
While he awaits the outcome of an independent judicial board called Montana POST that oversees actions of law officers, he also knows his future as a sheriff could hinge on the citizens of Cascade County. He has not yet decided on whether he will seek re-election, but expects to make a decision sometime in mid-February. He’s not proud of what happened that June night, but he refuses to let it define him.
“I feel horrible, because my actions that night being loud and disruptive, I don't want to dishonor anybody and I felt I did,” said Edwards. “But I love this job and other than this incident in Helena if I had to walk out the door tomorrow I'm going to hold my head up high because I feel I've made a difference, I really do. I'm not trying to be arrogant or boastful but I've held true to what I said we're going to do and that's a good feeling.”
Edwards Deferred Prosecution ends on February 1st. The recently released report on the incident from the Helena Police Department mentions inconsistent statements from the alleged assault victim in the case. The victim has not been charged with a crime.