- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - Missoula County commissioners have approved a $120,000 settlement for two deputies who alleged the sheriff discriminated against them when one announced plans to run for sheriff.

Council members approved $60,000 settlements each for Detective Sgt. T.J. McDermott and Detective Jason Johnson on Thursday, following several months of negotiations.

Under the agreement, supervisory officers in the department will be required to undergo training in the areas of political beliefs, activity discrimination, retaliation and the Montana Code of Governmental Fair Practices. The bureau also will monitor the sheriff’s office for a year, making someone available for employees to report any alleged acts of political discrimination or retaliation.

Last month, an investigator with the Montana Human Rights Bureau found Sheriff Carl Ibsen discriminated against McDermott, who has said he plans to run for sheriff, and Johnson, who supported his candidacy. McDermott has said if he wins he would appoint Johnson as undersheriff.

Johnson’s complaint, filed in June 2013, said after Ibsen learned of his support for McDermott’s candidacy, he lost his post as public information officer, made less money and lost his office.

McDermott said Thursday he couldn’t release his complaint or the results of its investigation as part of the settlement.

After Thursday’s council meeting, Ibsen told the newspaper he was limited by the settlement to saying only: “This case has been amicably resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”

McDermott and Johnson were also limited in their comments.

Human Rights Bureau investigator Dennis Unsworth looked into complaints filed by both officers. His report said Ibsen denied Johnson’s claim that removing him as public information officer was a demotion, saying he had been planning Johnson’s transition out of the post for several months. However, Unsworth said that statement contradicted Johnson’s August 2012 evaluation, which asked about his plans in the post over the next five years. Johnson also was recommended for a grade and pay increase.

Patrol Sgt. Bill Burt told Unsworth that McDermott and Johnson’s political aspirations were known, but the effort wasn’t seen as undercutting Ibsen, because “we all knew Ibsen was not running again.”

However, Burt said that on at least three occasions, Ibsen told him that he would “do anything within his power” to prevent McDermott from being elected, including running again himself. Burt said he believes Johnson’s involvement in the race would improve McDermott’s chances of winning the election.

Current Undersheriff Josh Clark announced his candidacy for sheriff on Wednesday.

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