Havre Daily News
Citing concerns about safety, Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel will offer to pay an increase in booking fees sought by the Hill County Sheriff's Office.
In exchange, Barthel wants county detention officers to again provide courtroom security for the arraignment of city prisoners at the Hill County Detention Center.
“There is a huge safety issue in the way arraignments are taking place,” Barthel said today.
The city attorneys of Havre and Lewistown also will seek an opinion from Attorney General Mike McGrath on whether the county can legally charge the city to provide booking services. Barthel said the cities are questioning whether the fee is justified, because Havre residents already pay for detention costs by paying county taxes.
City police began booking and fingerprinting city prisoners in July after the Sheriff's Office asked the city to pay $10 per prisoner, double what it was paying.
In September, Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said he would no longer allow county detention officers to provide courtroom security for the arraignment of city prisoners at the jail.
If an agreement is reached, city police officers would no longer have to book prisoners, transport them to the City Court for arraignments, or provide courtroom security.
Barthel and Szudera both said they have talked about the city's new proposal. Szudera today said he would not comment until he sees it in writing.
The Hill County commissioners could not be reached for comment.
In an interview Wednesday, Barthel also said he had a verbal agreement with Szudera to use $8,000 in county money to buy video arraignment equipment for Havre City Court before he asked the Havre City Council to approve the expenditure.
After that council meeting, Szudera said he and Barthel did not have an agreement. Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson said this week he was caught off guard by Barthel's request and that such agreements would have to be approved by the County Commission, he said.
The money was to come from a $49,000 federal grant that is split between the city and county. The equipment would allow city prisoners to be arraigned while being held at the detention center.
“The sheriff and I believed we had a mutual agreement to help alleviate the problem of transport and processing fees,” Barthel said. “It was a verbal agreement with a handshake.”
Szudera said today he remembersdiscussing the issue with Barthel but did not believe they had reached a final agreement.
“I told him to get everything to me in writing,” Szudera said. “That's the way we do business at the county. I don't make agreements in parking lots. The agreements have to go through the proper channels. It never happened. It didn't get to me in writing.”
Such agreements must go to the county attorney for review and the Hill County Commission for approval, Szudera added.
In June, the city cancelled a 12-year-old contract with the county after Szudera proposed raising the booking fee from $5 per arrest to $10. Havre police officers then became responsible for booking and fingerprinting their own prisoners.
At first, officers booked prisoners at the county jail. Szudera, citing safety and security concerns, eventually told the Police Department it could no longer do bookings at the detention center. Officers have since been booking prisoners at the Police Department.