Ex-sheriff has long history with Burgert

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Jim Dupont, then Flathead County sheriff, displays some of the weapons and approximately 25,000 rounds of ammunition being held as evidence in the David Burgert case in February 2002. Dupont holds the fully automatic machine gun Burgert was carrying during an all-night standoff with law enforcement.

Quite simply, David Burgert is a sociopath, former Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont says.

Dupont was one of Burgert’s favorite targets a decade ago when Burgert was constantly challenging local law enforcement officials about basically anything and everything.

Burgert is currently the subject of a manhunt after he shot at Missoula County officers Sunday and fled on foot into the woods.

Burgert had been living in a pre-release center in Missoula for about a year, Dupont said, after his release from a federal medical center in Rochester, Minn.

In September 2003 Burgert was sentenced to two concurrent seven-year terms in a federal prison for possession of an illegal machine gun and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Law officers involved in the manhunt have their work cut out, Dupont said, mostly because Burgert is so unpredictable.

In the years that Burgert was frequently in trouble with local law enforcement officials, he never really hurt anyone, Dupont said. “But he could be dangerous and hurt someone.”

In a Monday interview, Dupont, now a Flathead County commissioner, recalled the events that led to Burgert’s eventual sentencing.

Those events included near-daily conflicts and scuffles with law enforcement, multiple arrests for all sorts of offenses, Burgert’s month-long staged disappearance (during which Burgert’s wife accused police of killing her husband), and his connection to a Flathead County militia group dubbed Project 7.

The 7 came from Flathead County’s license plate designation. Project 7 members allegedly plotted to assassinate local officials and overthrow the government.

“It really all started on an individual basis,” Dupont said.

Burgert had applied to be a member of the North Valley Search and Rescue team. The typical process for those volunteers was for the Sheriff’s Office to run a criminal background check.

In this case, the sheriff’s staff learned that Burgert was a convicted felon, Dupont said. Burgert had been convicted of burglary in both Colorado and Alabama.

After learning of Burgert’s past, then-Undersheriff Chuck Curry, who was elected sheriff last November, told search-and-rescue leaders that Burgert couldn’t be on the team.

“I had no knowledge of him at that time,” Dupont said. “But he made an appointment with me because he wanted to appeal the decision.”

After meeting Burgert, Dupont still told him he couldn’t be on the rescue squad.

People who want to volunteer for any group connected to law enforcement can’t be convicted felons, Dupont said.

At that time, Burgert was also taking a training class to become an EMT, Dupont said, and was told he could no longer participate.

Because of these rejections, Burgert complained to Dupont that the sheriff “had ruined his life.”

All the while, Burgert kept bringing up his military career, claiming he had been a Marine and deserved respect, Dupont said. “Then we learned he’d been kicked out of the Marines during boot camp.”

“That all started a long stretch of hatred toward the Sheriff’s Office,” Dupont said. “It was all minor stuff, but he was a constant pain” for the Sheriff’s Office and local police departments. “He was constantly hassling anyone in a uniform.”

Somewhere along the line, though, Dupont said, issues and encounters with Burgert started becoming more serious.

Dupont speculates that Burgert went from believing that because “everyone was out to get him, he would then be out to get everyone.”

Burgert’s actions escalated to serious threats against Dupont, then-County Attorney Tom Esch, judges Katherine Curtis and Stewart Stadler and then-Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner.

An informant told police that Burgert planned to assassinate Dupont and the other officials, Dupont recalled. Burgert had told the informant that his theory was that once the local officials were dead, the state would send in officials and Burgert would kill them, too.

“Then they wanted to make Flathead County a free state,” Dupont said.

Perhaps the first telltale sign of the more serious nature of Burgert’s activities came when law enforcement officials began hearing complaints from citizens about “this group shooting — a lot — west of town,” he said.

After receiving another tip from an informant about Burgert’s actions, law officers found a huge stash of weapons and ammunition, along with commercial explosives, pipe bombs, gunpowder, shackles and survival equipment, all of which they connected to Burgert, Dupont said.

At that point, the FBI got involved in the matter, he said. Eventually, the federal charges were filed against Burgert.

Local law enforcement officials gave Burgert plenty of breaks, Dupont says.

For example, when a sheriff’s deputy and two highway patrol troopers followed Burgert’s friend Robert Cesnik onto Burgert’s property because Cesnik failed to stop for a traffic stop, Burgert scuffled with the officers and later was charged with assaulting an officer.

Troopers that day decided to obtain a search warrant rather than arrest the two men, as they certainly could have, Dupont said.

“Cesnik didn’t run, but he didn’t stop” while driving, Dupont said, but when he exited the car and ran, officers certainly had reason to consider it a “fresh pursuit” and could have made an immediate arrest. Instead, they cut him some slack, Dupont said.

Likewise, when Burgert’s wife reported him missing when he reportedly had gone fishing on Jan. 8, 2002, search and rescue crews spent about four hours searching the river for him. They had found his pickup at Presentine Bar on the Flathead River, with a fishing pole and a note saying he was fishing.

Police later found Burgert’s camp site in the woods, which Dupont described as “sophisticated.” No doubt, Burgert is a survivalist, Dupont said.

About a month later, Burgert was found at the home of Tracy Brockway, who police said was his girlfriend, although Burgert denied that relationship. Meanwhile, Burgert’s wife publicly stated she thought police had killed her husband and friends planned a fundraiser to help his wife meet expenses.

When police spotted Burgert at Brockway’s house and approached, Burgert ran, but swung an assault rifle at officers. He later surrendered after an all-night standoff west of Kalispell.

Dupont said local officials decided to let the FBI pursue the federal case against Burgert rather than “stacking” the local charges, too.

Reporter Shelley Ridenour may be reached at 758-4439 or sridenour@dailyinterlake.com.

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