By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A former state probation officer in Havre has been accused of engaging in sexual acts with a woman he was assigned to supervise.
Edward L. Schmidt, a 13-year veteran with the state Department of Corrections, was charged Thursday in state District Court in Havre with one count of official misconduct.
The alleged victim is a 40-year-old woman who was placed on probation in February and assigned to Schmidt's supervision. According to the charging document, Schmidt required the woman to call him excessively, talked to her about sexual matters, and on three occasions masturbated in her presence while touching her.
Official misconduct is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. According to state law, a public servant commits official misconduct "if he, when in his official capacity and with the purpose to obtain advantage for himself, performs an act in excess of his lawful authority."
Schmidt, who had worked in Havre for 11 years, resigned in September, five days after meeting with a criminal investigator looking into the woman's allegations. Schmidt could not be reached for comment.
"These are merely allegations," his attorney, Francis McCarvel of Helena, said today. "We have not even seen the investigative file, and will be much better prepared to make a statement once we see it."
McCarvel questioned the credibility of the alleged victim, citing her convictions for obstructing a peace officer and providing false reports to law enforcement, as well as a recent arrest for driving under the influence. During the interview with an investigator, Schmidt denied engaging in any misconduct, the charging document said.
"Schmidt maintained that (the woman) had called him repeatedly and at various places, that (the woman) wanted to talk about sexual matters, and that he told her that they should not, and that he had not done anything sexually with her," the document said.
The alleged victim made a complaint about Schmidt to the Hill County Sheriff's Office on July 5, according to Undersheriff Don Brostrum said. Deputy Dottie Dwyer and deputy Monte Reichelt went to the woman's house and interviewed her.
The call and subsequent investigation were omitted from the July 5 sheriff's dispatch log.
Prior to November, the Sheriff's Office did not include complaints about sex crimes on their dispatch logs. The call also was omitted, Szudera said, because deputies questioned the validity of the woman's allegations because she has a history of lying to police. Court records show she has twice been convicted of providing false reports to law enforcement.
Several days after the woman met with deputies, Szudera turned the investigation over to the state Department of Justice. The Division of Criminal Investigation assigned Great Falls agent Ken Thompson to the case.
"Anytime an allegation is made against a state employee, the investigation is turned over to the state," Szudera said in an interview last year. "That's standard procedure."
On July 11, Thompson interviewed the woman and went to her home to collect possible evidence. Using an ultraviolet light, he identified samples of possible DNA evidence on the woman's couch and carpet, according to the charging document. Thompson removed the samples and submitted them to the Montana State Crime Lab along with a DNA sample he had previously taken from Schmidt.
"Analysis of the substance found on the sample of the couch material by a forensic scientist revealed that the substance included seminal fluid," the charging document said. "Genetic material found in the seminal fluid matched the genetic material collected from Schmidt."
On Sept. 3, Schmidt waived his Miranda rights and consented to an interview with Thompson, the charging document said. He was suspended from his job.
He resigned five days later.
The results of Thompson's investigation were turned over to assistant state attorney general Barb Harris. Harris has declined to comment about the case. On Tuesday she mailed a notice of her intention to file a charge against Schmidt to District Judge David Rice,who approved the charge. On Thursday the charging document was filed in District Court.
Thompson's investigation was one of three being conducted by state agencies into Schmidt's alleged misconduct.
On Aug. 12, the woman filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Bureau alleging she suffered sexual discrimination because of Schmidt's behavior.
The woman said in the complaint she is "humiliated, embarrassed, violated, and outraged," by Schmidt's alleged conduct.
The complaint names both Schmidt and state of Montana as being liable for Schmidt's alleged behavior, and requested a compensatory award.
The filing of the complaint prompted an investigation by human rights officer Ron Chen, who sought rebuttals from Schmidt and the Department of Corrections.
Schmidt denied the woman's allegations in a two-paragraph response sent from McCarvel to Chen dated Oct. 9.
"Ed Schmidt denies committing any discriminatory acts as alleged by (the woman)," the document said. Attached were copies of several court documents outlining the circumstances under which the woman was placed on probation. The documents detailed a confrontation between the woman and officers at the Hill County Detention Center following the woman's July 2002 arrest on a charge of providing false reports to law enforcement.
McCarvel also sent Chen a witness statement from Schmidt's wife, who said the woman called Schmidt excessively, once after ingesting "a bunch of pills" in an apparent suicide attempt.
The inclusion of the documents in Schmidt's denial prompted an angry response from Flaherty four days later.
"What Ed Schmidt has done is to make the Paula Jones trailer trash defense, accusing (the woman) of making false accusations of rape, attempting suicide and being chemically dependent or not complaining to other people," Flaherty wrote to Chen. "If she had complained, she was under the threat of being sent to jail."
The Department of Corrections denied wrongdoing in a Nov. 7 response to the woman's complaint. DOC lawyer Colleen White said in the response that the department had no knowledge of any misconduct by Schmidt.
"If Schmidt indeed engaged in the alleged behavior, he did so without the authority of the Department and without its knowledge," the document said.
White wrote that DOC had provided Schmidt with sexual harassment training, and that the behavior described in the woman's complaint "would lie outside the scope and course of his employment and would be grounds for termination."
Chen's investigation is not complete. The Human Rights Bureau has until 180 days after receiving the initial complaint to make an official ruling. Bureau chief Kathy Kountz said she could not comment about an ongoing case.
The women's complaint also prompted DOC to perform an internal probe. The department's chief investigator, Mike Micu, said during a interview last year that the investigation was being done to protect the department in the event the woman filed a civil suit against DOC.
"The investigation is from a legal aspect that is not criminal in nature," Micu said. "If there was any other staff negligence, or maybe an incident went unreported, those are the types of things we look into."
The DOC performs an internal review any time an allegation is made against a department employee, Micu said.
The internal investigation was completed late last year, he said this morning.
"There was nothing to suggest that anyone else was involved," he said. "There was nothing to indicate that a supervisor had knowledge of it."
DOC spokeswoman Sally Hilander also said this morning she was not aware of any other complaints against Schmidt or other instances of alleged misconduct.
Flaherty said the charge against Schmidt will help bring closure for his client, who also struggles with chemical dependency issues.
"They say that for the victims of these things, they can't move on unless they find closure," he said. "They can't push on in their recovery unless they know that the person responsible is brought to justice."
Schmidt was hired as a probation officer in November of 1990. He was assigned to the Havre field office in 1992. At the time he resigned, Schmidt was responsible for supervising 87 people, 18 of whom were women, according to his former supervisor, Jerry Smith.
Smith, who has worked in Havre since 1989, declined to comment this morning. He said during an earlier interview that this is the first time someone in the Havre office has been investigated for misconduct.
"In this line of work, it's not unusual to have complaints, but we've never had anything like this," he said.