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State considers whether Musselshell County sheriff misused property

The Billings Gazette - Billings, MT -
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Musselshell County, MT

2010-06-07_State considers whether Musselshell County sheriff misused propertyMusselshell County Sheriff Woody Weitzeil, shown in July 2009, is accused of misusing property from the county's evidence room.
Photo by DAVID GRUBBS/Gazette Staff

The state Department of Justice is considering whether Musselshell County Sheriff Woody Weitzeil improperly used property from his evidence room.

An investigation into the allegation has been completed, and the case has been forwarded to the state’s Prosecution Services Bureau to determine whether charges should be filed, said Judy Beck, spokeswoman for Attorney General Steve Bullock.

“Nothing will become public until if and when there are charges filed,” Beck said.

Weitzeil said he took an old, rusty action that had sat unused for about 15 to 20 years from the evidence room.

Over a period of several months, Weitzeil said, he cleaned the old J. Stevens Marksman single-shot, break-open action and purchased parts to retrofit it into a .22-caliber that could be kept in his patrol vehicle to kill wildlife, such as injured deer found on county roadways and skunks.

“It was a piece of scrap iron,” Weitzeil said. “That’s all it was.”

Musselshell County Attorney Kent Sipe said that he referred the matter to the state’s Division of Criminal Investigations in mid - to early April after Weitzeil told him about taking an item from the evidence room that was described as a firearm with a sawed-off barrel and welded-on pistol grip.

“The admission was that he’d taken it for his personal use and wasn’t he entitled to it. … That was the statement that was made to me was wasn’t he entitled to a little piece of metal after 25 years,” Sipe said.

Weitzeil has been with the Musselshell County Sheriff’s Office since 1986. He became the sheriff in 2004 after voters recalled former Sheriff Martin Malone, who was accused of misusing a county credit card and cell phone.

On Tuesday, Weitzeil, a Republican, faces challenges from two other Republicans in a primary election for the sheriff’s post. He is running against Republicans Lyle Beauchamp and John White, along with Bert Holmes, an Independent candidate.

Weitzeil said he thinks the timing of the investigation is suspicious.

“I find it very interesting that the county attorney would do this just before an election,” Weitzeil said.

Sipe said he relayed all information about the issue to the state’s investigation bureau and did not contact the media about the matter. He said he was contacted by DCI late Friday after the agency received a request for information about the investigation from Billings television station KTVQ.

“I made my referral,” Sipe said. “It was an admission that was made to me and that I was not comfortable with.”

State law requires that a petition be filed with a court to destroy or appropriate physical evidence from criminal cases or contraband items seized from individuals. A court may then issue an order authorizing the item’s destruction or use for law enforcement purposes.

Weitzeil said that, in this case, the action was never tagged as evidence. He said it had a short, sawed-off barrel attached to it and most likely was once used as a “druggie’s gun.”

“It was either going to get thrown in the garbage or just left there forever, so why not just turn it into something the department can use?” Weitzeil asked.

Sipe said he was told by the sheriff that the weapon was seized from an individual as an unlawful firearm many years ago.

Contact Kahrin Deines at or 657-1392.

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