A letter from a Missoula law firm alleges misconduct in the Mineral County Attorney’s Office, saying the office withheld relevant evidence in multiple prosecutions, a claim backed up by at least one judge’s ruling.
The letter, sent by the Reep, Bell and Jasper P.C. law office on Monday, alleges prosecutors in the Mineral County Attorney’s Office mishandled cases by omitting required disclosures during the criminal justice process, prompting defendants to enter guilty pleas when all relevant evidence hadn’t been considered.
“This error by the Mineral County Attorney’s Office impeded its citizens’ rights to make a fully informed decision about whether to proceed to trial,” the letter says. It points to the involvement of three Mineral County Sheriff’s deputies, Shawn Visintin, David Kunzelman and Patrick Nobles, asking that all Mineral County cases involving the deputies be reevaluated.
It also advises that all defendants who previously entered guilty pleas should be allowed to withdraw those pleas, and any case involving the three deputies in question should be promptly dismissed.
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Attorney Lance Jasper explained that withholding the information prevents defendants from properly evaluating and preparing cases.
Jasper’s letter came after a court order last week ruling that the Mineral County Attorney’s Office didn’t make a timely disclosure in a criminal case, which prompted a Missoula judge to dismiss the case altogether.
“Timely disclosures are required for due process, and they ensure fair trials,” Missoula County District Judge Leslie Halligan wrote in the order filed on June 8.
The Mineral County Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the matter.
The order says the prosecutors erred in a criminal case by not noting Deputy David Kunzelman’s termination from the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office in 2013.
Ronald Gibson, the defendant in the dismissed case, faced multiple charges, including felony assault on a peace officer.
Gibson was accused of obstructing Kunzelman by resisting arrest and assaulting the deputy in August 2021. Sometime in late April or early May of this year, the state was notified Kunzelman was terminated as a reserve deputy by the Missoula sheriff’s office in 2013.
He was terminated after his supervisor was notified Kunzelman had reportedly cheated on his entrance exam to become a reserve deputy back in 2006.
The Mineral County Attorney’s Office didn’t disclose information about Kunzelman’s termination to Gibson or his attorney. The defense team learned about it on June 1 through a third party, and emailed the state asking for a disclosure in court, the order stated.
Mineral Deputy County Attorney Debra Jackson responded by saying she didn’t know about any criminal charges against Kunzelman, but didn’t address the question posed to her about his employment record. She also didn’t acquire the deputy’s personnel record as requested, according to the order.
“The State’s subsequent refusal to disclose when it came to the attention of defense counsel made the violation more egregious,” Halligan wrote.
Gibson was awaiting a trial for 280 days, Halligan wrote.
In her order, Halligan references the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland (1963), a landmark case that determined prosecution attorneys cannot withhold relevant evidence from the accused.
“Peace officers are expected to have impeccable integrity, especially in the performance of their duties,” Halligan continued. “If Deputy Kunzelman was terminated in 2013 for cheating on the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office deputy entrance exam, this would tend to cast doubt on his credibility.”
Kunzelman’s termination should have been thoroughly investigated and disclosed by the state, Halligan added. By not doing so, the state violated its duty to disclose.
Because Kunzelman was the prosecution’s key witness, Halligan found the state unable to maintain its prosecution in the criminal charges against Gibson. She vacated the trial and dismissed the case.
Jasper estimates at least 10 defendants have been affected by conduct similar to what Gibson experienced, but said that number might grow.
The letter doesn’t detail what behavior by Visintin and Nobles is prompting the request for disclosures, but it does accuse Nobles of indiscretion and dishonesty “for which he was fired.”
Kunzelman is still working in the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Mike Toth said. Visintin and Nobles are not.
At the end of the letter, Jasper and his co-attorney, Jordan Kilby, stipulate the county attorney’s office has two weeks to make the required disclosures and comply with its ethical obligations.
“Our office will have no other choice than to seek judicial action, including a demand for costs and legal fees, to protect the citizens of Mineral County,” it concludes.