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Sheehy says he lied about accidental discharge, gunshot wound incident in Glacier National Park

Campaign says Senate candidate lied to protect former service members
Posted at 8:07 AM, Apr 09, 2024

Montana Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Sheehy told The Washington Post in a story published during the weekend he had lied to a Glacier National Park ranger about accidentally shooting himself in the arm to try to protect other military service members from what he believed could lead to an investigation into how he actually ended up with a bullet in his arm.

The report published Saturday, which includes contributions from eight Washington Post journalists, is the first to detail Sheehy’s October 2015 citation for illegally discharging a weapon in a national park.

It includes an interview with Sheehy and his attorney and compares varying claims he made in his book and on the campaign trail about being wounded in action during his military service in Afghanistan, reports the Daily Montanan.

Sheehy’s campaign said in a statement to the Daily Montanan on Monday the report was an attempt to question Sheehy’s service and injuries he received as a Navy SEAL serving overseas in the midst of Sheehy’s campaign to try to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

“While Montanans respect his selfless sacrifice for our country and commend it, because he is a Republican running for office, the liberal elite misinformation machine is going to great lengths to question and attack it,” Sheehy campaign spokesperson Jack O’Brien said in a statement.

Sheehy told The Washington Post he had fallen while on a hike with his family in the park on Oct. 20, 2015, and needed to go to the emergency room in Kalispell, where he said he told hospital staff about a bullet in his arm, which he said led to the ranger who cited him getting involved. He told the Washington Post he believed he could have broken his arm in the fall and thought the bullet might have dislodged itself.

The news report includes the citation Sheehy received. The ranger who wrote the report, whose name is redacted and who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, said he was originally dispatched to Logan Pass, where the accidental discharge apparently occurred.

But the citation says on the way there, he was told by dispatch Sheehy was at the Kalispell hospital with a gunshot wound. The ranger arrived when Sheehy was being discharged from the hospital, and Sheehy told him he had been moving gear around in the back of his vehicle and his Colt .45 had fallen to the ground and accidentally fired; the bullet hit him in the arm and lodged there.

The citation says Sheehy was “fully cooperative and upfront about the incident” and paid a $525 fine with a credit card.

“I guess the only thing I’m guilty of is admitting to doing something I never did,” Sheehy told the Washington Post. He further said it was a “small price to pay” to try to avoid what he said could have caused an investigation into whether he was shot by friendly fire overseas in 2012. Sheehy was still in the Navy Reserve as well at the time of the incident in Glacier, according to his resume.

A National Park Service employee on Monday confirmed the veracity of the citation but said the NPS did not provide The Washington Post with the document. The employee said the National Park Service would be working to upload the document to a Freedom of Information Act website early this week.

Experts in firearms and military policy told the newspaper it was unlikely that a Colt .45 would accidentally discharge after being dropped and also unlikely a hospital would report an old bullet wound to the military for investigation.

Sheehy told The Washington Post he had been shot twice – once by a ricochet and once in his body armor – while deployed overseas, while a spokesperson for his campaign added he had been shot another time in his radio. The report details varying claims Sheehy has made about his injuries during the past two years.

He told The Washington Post the bullet in his arm came during a night patrol in spring of 2012 in which he was shot and that he received no treatment for the wound and did not report it to superiors because it was not affecting his ability to do his job. He also said he didn’t want to leave his men, who were already short-handed, and that he was unsure if his wound involved friendly fire.

Sheehy earned both a Bronze Star with a “V” device for valor, as well as a Purple Heart, during his service in the Navy, according to his resume and news reports. Neither award involved the 2012 shooting incident.

“The bullet in Tim’s arm was a result of his service in Afghanistan. Tim never reported it because he didn’t want to trigger an investigation of his team, be pulled from the battlefield, and see a fellow teammate be punished. It was always about protecting a fellow team member of his unit he thought could have been responsible due to friendly fire ricochet in the heat of an engagement with the enemy,” O’Brien, Sheehy’s spokesperson, told the Daily Montanan in an emailed statement Monday.

Lying to a federal officer is a federal crime, but The Washington Post reported the 2015 incident was outside of the statute of limitations for prosecution. The ranger, speaking anonymously to the Washington Post, said he recalled the Colt .45 was in a holster in Sheehy’s vehicle and that it was missing one bullet, though his original report did not mention a missing bullet.

Sheehy said staff at the hospital in Kalispell told him they needed to report all gunshot wounds to law enforcement, and his lawyer told The Washington Post Sheehy had tried to explain the wound was not fresh. But neither would tell the newspaper whether medical professionals deemed the wound to be old or new.

According to the report, Sheehy’s campaign did not provide reporters with medical records from the hospital visit and declined to allow the hospital to speak about his treatment, though the campaign did provide them with an X-ray of his arm the report says shows “a circular item lodged in a right forearm, close to the elbow.”

VoteVets, a left-leaning national veterans’ group, said Monday it was “deeply troubled that a fellow veteran may have misrepresented aspects of their service while trying to win a political campaign.

“Sheehy should immediately release the medical documents related to his disputed injury and start answering the many questions that remain,” the group said in a statement.

Sheehy’s campaign said the story published by The Washington Post was an attempt “to tear down a combat veteran’s record.”

“Tim has been and will continue to be a humble servant of our great nation, our veterans, and the men and women he admirably served with,” O’Brien said. “He got into this race to put our country first and he won’t ever let any of this slander stop him from fighting every day as your next U.S. Senator.”

A new poll from J.L. Partners released Monday to the Montana State News Bureau, conducted in late March, found Tester leading Sheehy 48% to 45%, within the ±4.3% margin of error. Seven percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The seat is expected to be a pivotal one for both Democrats and Republicans trying to keep, or retake, the Senate majority, along with races in Arizona and Ohio. As of mid-March, political action committees had already booked nearly $100 million in advertising for the months ahead, according to the political ad-tracking firm AdImpact.