Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) When former Missoula Chief of Police Jaeson White was testifying before the City Council Committee on Health and Safety in 2022, his phone alerted him to an incoming email.

It wasn't until that June 15 meeting was over did White realize who the message was from, and its subject line was rather disturbing.

“You are a toxic police chief who doesn't care about our safety or improvement as a society,” the email read. The subject line added, “Can't wait to see you fired.”

The message, received by the Missoula Current through a freedom of information act request, was sent by City Council member Daniel Carlino while the committee hearing was still in session and while White was still testifying.

White described the incident as shocking, saying that in more than 30 years of policing, he'd never has his job threatened by an elected official.

“It's one of those things where it feels like your job is being threatened,” White said. “At that point in time, I had 33 years of distinguished service. To have something like that happen was a little shocking.”

Police Chief Files Formal Complaint

The incident prompted White to file a formal complaint with the city, alleging that Carlino's email was unprofessional and unethical, and was sent “in an effort to intimidate, threaten, harass and retaliate.”

It also prompted City Council to convene a panel to investigate White's complaint. In doing so, the panel found that Carlino had violated Rule 5 of City Council Rules covering “conduct of City Council members.” It also found an administrative violation that prohibits the use of a city email to send harassing messages.

“The evidence substantiates that your behavior likely violates City of Missoula policies...,” the panel stated in its findings. “We offered you an opportunity for due process and you have chosen to respond in writing. You were invited to attend an in-person meeting and chose not to attend.”

Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White. (Photo courtesy of the City of Missoula)
Former Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White. (Photo courtesy of the City of Missoula)

Carlino's failure to appear in person further frustrated the panel, which was forced to detail its concerns in writing. The panel found that Carlino's violation of Rule 5 was “significant” on a number of fronts and could undermine the City Council's role in passing department budgets and appointing department heads.

The panel suggested it was also “personally damaging to staff to be threatened in this way” by suggesting their job was on the line simply because they disagreed on proposed legislation.

“If staff is providing relevant information on a topic that City Council is deliberating, staff should not be threatened merely for having a difference in opinion. It's not difficult to imagine that such an email could be sent with the intent to influence the testimony of city staff, which would undermine the free exchange of ideas,” the panel wrote.

Put City Council in a Precarious Position

The hearing that prompted Carlino to send the message on June 15 was related to Carlino's proposal to decriminalize hallucinogenic mushrooms and cacti.

As police chief, White testified against the measure, describing mushrooms as a Schedule 1 Drug. He said such plants were defined in state law as dangerous and added that Carlino's proposal, if adopted, would “impact the department's ability to enforce other drug laws and lead to unintended consequences.”

White also said that Carlino's proposal would jeopardize the $300,000 in federal funding the city receives each year to run the Missoula Drug Task Force.

While Carlino's measure never made it out of committee, his email to White that morning did. In its investigation, the panel told Carlino that if staff are in fear of being threatened by councilors, it damages the legislative process and is not in the community's best interest.

City Council president Gwen Jones. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
City Council president Gwen Jones. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

The council's letter of warning to Carlino was filed with the city's Human Resources Department on July 5 and was also received through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“It was a very unfortunate situation. We tried to handle it as professionally as possible,” City Council President Gwen Jones told the Missoula Current. “We tried to address it professionally with what we felt was the appropriate response at the time.”

City Council rules include a provision that eight members can vote someone off City Council, but Jones said that approach seemed heavy handed. And while Carlino failed to meet with his council peers to discuss the incident, he did issue a letter of apology.

That budgeting season, Carlino attempted to pull funding away from the Missoula Police Department. When asked for comment on his actions and his reprimand, Carlino didn't apologize but rather, he defended his actions.

"The United States has more of our citizens incarcerated per capita than any other country in the world. We’ve reached this point because politicians and law enforcement leadership, such as former police chief Jaeson White, started and continue the war on drugs. White’s tough-on-crime approach to drug use is causing harm to our community rather than helping people get the help that they need," Carlino told the Missoula Current.

Carlino added, "I will continue to push for more humane drug policies and for leadership that sees people who use drugs as people, not criminals."

The city said this was Carlino's first warning of violating City Council rules.