Today marks the three-year anniversary of Flathead County Deputy Attorney Kenneth “Rusty” Park starting his job, but it also marks the third day of his administrative leave after he was arrested Friday night for partner or family member assault
Early Saturday, Park was the recipient of an unusual after-midnight hearing that allowed him to be released from custody without spending Saturday and Sunday in jail, as is the norm for Friday night arrests.
The story began when sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the 46-year-old Park’s Kila home after his wife called 911 at 9:26 p.m. Friday to report a physical disturbance.
According to the call log, she reported Park had been drinking and was acting disorderly, throwing things at her. She also indicated this had been a problem for several days but had gotten worse Friday night and complained of a bruise on her arm and a scratch on her ankle.
Park was subsequently taken into custody with no problems on a preliminary charge of partner or family member assault.
Park’s boss, Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan, said Park has been placed on paid administrative leave until the citation is resolved and his office would not handle the case.
“I have sent the reports to the attorney general's office since I don't feel it would be appropriate for me to make a decision on whether to dismiss the charge or go forward with a prosecution since he works in my office,” Corrigan said.
He departed from the narrative provided in the call log, saying that the dispute was verbal only and that alcohol was not a factor, merely that Park’s wife felt it necessary to call 911.
What has local attorneys and law enforcement officials talking, however, is that Park’s attorney — Thane Johnson — was able to call Justice of the Peace Mark Sullivan and convince him to come in after midnight on a Saturday morning to hold an initial appearance for Park.
The result of that hearing was that Park was released on his own recognizance and did not have to sit in jail over the weekend until one of the justices was available during their regular hours Monday morning.
“Everybody’s got a pretty bad taste in their mouth over the fact that he got an initial appearance at 12:30 on a Saturday morning,” local attorney Jason Bryan said. “That wouldn’t happen for anyone else.”
Bryan did not claim to know the details of Park’s arrest and immediately stated that Park is — as everyone else — presumed innocent until proven guilty, but shared his disbelief that Park would get such a favor offered to no one else.
“If it was you or myself or any client I’ve ever represented, they would never, never, ever be allowed out till Monday,” Bryan said. “He’s entitled to due process and how everything works out, but he shouldn’t be receiving any favors just because he’s a deputy county attorney. If anything, he should be held to a higher standard.”
He said he was sure the likely reason given for the unusual procedure would be that Park is partially responsible for putting several of the people in jail who are there now, and his safety would be an issue. But Bryan argued that segregation cells are available to protect prisoners who need special attention.
“Unless segregation was full, there is no reason Mr. Park should have been released until Monday,” Bryan said.
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said he didn’t know the details of what happened — but it had never happened before.
“In my 27 years of law enforcement, I have not seen a judge have someone appear before them after midnight,” Curry said.
He said any type of special treatment for anyone in the justice system was unacceptable.
“We're very much about equal treatment for people regardless of what they do for a living, and this case is no different than any other case even though we may work with the defendant or know him personally,” Curry said. “In all cases we try to be blind to personal relationships or professional relationships when we're enforcing the law.”
Johnson declined to comment on the special hearing, only sharing his thoughts on the case itself.
“From my examination of the evidence and interviewing of some of the witnesses, it is my opinion that Kenneth Park is absolutely not guilty and I look forward to any trial if need be in order to prove that fact,” Johnson said. “I sincerely believe that the charges should be dismissed based on my review of the initial investigation.”
Corrigan said he had only vague information on the hearing.
“I’m not aware of that other than that his attorney was able to contact and convince Justice of the Peace Mark Sullivan to come down and have an initial [appearance] for him,” Corrigan said.
A message left on Park’s home phone was not returned as of press time. Sullivan was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at email@example.com.