By SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
For the Hungry Horse News
This time, it’s for good.
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry will work his last day as the county’s top lawman on Monday, Dec. 31. Curry is retiring from the department after leading it since 2011.
Curry first retired from the force in 2006 after 26 years. Then, he had reached the position of undersheriff, working for the legendary Jim Dupont for 15 years. Dupont was the longest-tenured sheriff in Flathead County, serving 16 years from 1991 to 2007.
“Jim was a great guy; we were good friends and I respected him a lot and I learned a lot,” Curry said. “Jim had great common sense and I believe that’s the most important part of this job. It’s underrated. The bottom line is this is not a black and white job and a lot of what we do occurs in gray areas.”
Curry, who was born in Havre in 1959, graduated from Flathead High School in 1977. He joined the Sheriff’s Posse when he was 18. His father, now deceased, was a Posse member and Curry said he knew a lot of the people in it and looked up to those who worked with the Sheriff’s Office.
His father was a civil service employee and the family moved around quite a bit as his dad helped build radar installations across the country.
“Back then, there was an Air Force base in Lakeside, and he helped build the one on Blacktail Mountain,” Curry said. “My mom had her fill of moving around at that point, so we stayed.”
The Curry family remained in the Flathead Valley. His mother, daughter and two grandchildren still live in the area.
Curry attended Montana State University-Northern and Montana State University, where he majored in criminal justice. He started working at the Sheriff’s Office when he was 20 as a patrol deputy and then became a corporal. Curry also was involved with A.L.E.R.T. air ambulance for 20 years. His work with it began in 1984 as a part-time volunteer after he became an emergency medical technician in 1982.
When he decided to get involved in law enforcement, Curry’s desires were simple.
“It was a cool job,” he said. “You got to drive cars fast and wrestle with bad guys. There is a lot more to it, but I really like what I do and it’s kept me interested.”
But even the “cool” job had its limits.
After he left the Sheriff’s Office for the first time, he became the chief flight paramedic with A.L.E.R.T.
“I needed a break from the Sheriff’s Office, but I really missed it,” he said.
Curry said he never had intentions of being sheriff, but some of his friends convinced him to return to the department and he ran for sheriff in 2010, beating incumbent Sheriff Mike Meehan.
“The last eight years, it’s been the highlight of my career,” Curry said.
He’s often asked about his most memorable cases, but after so many years, not one truly stands out.
But when reminded of some of his notables, Curry did have plenty of recollections.
The mysterious David Burgert case was one of those memorable situations.
Burgert hasn’t been seen since he disappeared in the mountains outside of Lolo in June 2011 after engaging in a shootout with deputies from the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office. Burgert is well-known to veteran law officers in the Flathead after incidents that included a charge of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy in 2001 and an armed standoff with officers near Kalispell in 2002. Burgert, who is still wanted by the U.S. Marshal’s Service, and five others faced federal charges related to their participation in Project 7, a small group of area residents who amassed weapons and allegedly plotted to kill local officials. Project 7 was described as a local militia cell with ties to other militia groups.
Curry, as he said years ago, believes Burgert isn’t alive.
“Dave Burgert is not the kind of a guy that could stay hidden for that long,” Curry said. “He has such an ego, he couldn’t stay out of sight. He was a guy who didn’t like you just because of what you did.”
Curry acknowledged that Project 7 was a little scary because they were better organized than most anti-government or law-enforcement outfits.
Another more recent memorable incident was the fire that destroyed Melby’s Home Interiors in Columbia Falls in September 2015. Curry said his office believes it knows who set the fire, but without a confession or evidence linking the suspect to the crime, there is nothing that can be done.
He said cases like that one are some of the frustrating ones where no one may ever be prosecuted.
“The one thing I try to make sure our officers understand is that we’re just one part of the system,” Curry said. “We can only control our end. We can’t control Legislatures, attorneys or courts. We can only generate the best case possible and it gets more challenging every year. There are more laws and more lawyers.”
Curry talked about justice reinvestment, a movement that essentially takes money from prison building and uses it for community programs that hope to correct substance addiction.
“Are we putting too many people in jail and not fixing any of them? It’s not all bad, but it makes it tough on the working street cop,” Curry said. “We are on a first-name basis with a lot of the bad guys because we see them over and over.”
Curry said the drug epidemic is one where there are no easy answers.
“It’s over-simplistic to think drug abuse is a victimless crime,” he said. “We see people with six-figure habits that don’t have six-figure incomes to support them, so citizens and children bear the brunt of their efforts to pay for their habits.
“Many of these criminals we are seeing are third generation. I don’t know the answers for all of it. More treatment is needed, but not all of them are fixable,” Curry said.
Curry may be done in law enforcement, for now, but the self-described adrenaline junkie will remain with the sheriff’s dive team and will be involved with Two Bear Air.
“I don’t like the term workaholic, but I tend to be pretty hands-on,” Curry said. “If there’s an important case, I’ll go. I think it’s important for your employees to know you care and being there is important.”
Curry said he’s had a good career and hopes his department has been responsive to the public.
“Not that I haven’t made mistakes, but I hope that we’ve been honest and done things the right way,” Curry said.