Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said his department believes actions taken by the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire Department Board of Trustees were unlawful, and has submitted their investigation to the Gallatin County Attorney's Office.
The Bridger Canyon Rural Fire District Board held a special meeting on Thursday night to address the ongoing rift between the board and members of a group who call themselves the Safety Coalition.
NBC Montana has been following the controversy in the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire Department. A huge chunk of the department quit last May, citing differences with the Board of Trustees.
The Sheriff's Department and County Attorney's Office launched a criminal investigation into the board over allegations that actions taken after the firefighters quit weren't open to the public or properly announced.
In February, the Safety Coalition submitted a petition to be put on this May's election ballot, for voters to decide whether to recall the trustees.
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin attended a Thursday meeting at the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire Department to share what he could about an investigation into the board of trustees.
"I wanted to come and answer some of the questions and make them feel a little better about what our office's role is," Gootkin explained.
He explained they began their investigation after being tipped off by residents about an alleged emergency board meeting the residents claimed was unlawful.
"We gather the facts from both sides of the situation and then we evaluate the evidence and the facts, and if we feel as though that fits the criminal statute, then we submit that to the county attorney's office, and that's what we did in this case," Gootkin said.
Gootkin said the evidence pointed to the meeting being illegal, so they sent it to the county attorney's office, but because the investigation is still ongoing, he couldn't say much more than that.
We approached Board Chair Mike Conn after the meeting about the situation.
"It was not an illegal meeting," he said. "It was definitely an emergency, and that's what was done and that's where we'll go from there. I guess the voters are going to decide."
He said he stands by the decision to hold the meeting, and said he feels like what the board did was right.
On Thursday NBC Montana also acquired 2,500 emails to and from Bridger Canyon board members during the controversy. Members of the Safety Coalition obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act in late February.
The Sheriff's Office investigation into the board of trustees is complete, and Gootkin explained it is now in the hands of County Attorney Marty Lambert, but said they have no timeline yet on when the situation will be resolved.
CORRECTION: On Thursday we reported that the Sheriff's Office's investigation was specifically about the "emergency meeting" held by the BCRFD Board of Trustees last May. We followed up with Sheriff Brian Gootkin on Friday who tells us he believes the investigation looked into other actions taken by the Board, not just that meeting.