Stevens enters no contest plea in theft case, state knocks charge down to misdemeanor
John Stevens, former undersheriff at the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, reached a plea agreement with the Montana Attorney General’s Office in the case against him regarding the alleged theft of weapons from the CCSO.
He was charged in March with a felony count of theft.
Last week, Stevens signed a plea agreement, entering a plea of no contest and in exchange, the state amended the charge to a misdemeanor count of theft, which is punishable by a fine of not more than $500.
A no contest plea essentially means that a defendant is not admitting wrongdoing or disputing the charge.
According to the plea agreement, the parties will jointly recommend a one-year deferred imposition of sentencing.
Under the agreement, the state will release from evidence a Remington model 870 shotgun to Stevens, but all other evidence recovered from the defendant will not be returned to the defendant.
The theft charge stemmed from firearms purchased with county funds that Stevens took with him when he retired from CCSO.
Stevens was employed with CCSO for more than 20 years until he retired from the department on Jan. 12, 2018.
Beginning in August 2018, an agent with the Montana Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation was assigned to investigation allegations of theft occurring within CCSO.
According to court documents, Stevens was issued multiple firearms, including a Glock 27 40 S&W serial number HEY885; Rock River Arms LAR 15 rifle serial number CM55017; and a Glock 43 serial number BBYP075.
The DCI agent confirmed these firearms were purchased with county funds and found records that the Glock 27 and River Arms LAR were purchased in July 2005. The Glock 43 was purchased in June 2016.
Each was purchased as part of a larger order of firearms for the department, according to the court documents.
Stevens facilitated the purchased for the Glock 27 while he was commander of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area or HIDTA.
In July 2006, Stevens signed a letter addressed to the gun wholesaler on CCSO letterhead, stating, in part, “Detective John Stevens is authorized to purchase a high-capacity firearm for official use only. I, hereby certify under penalty of perjury, the above-named law enforcement officer will use the requested firearm and/or large capacity ammunition feeding device for use in performing official duties and that the firearm is not being acquired for personal use or for purposes of transfer or resale,” according to the court documents.
Other Rock River Arms LAR 15 rifles were also purchased for HIDTA while Stevens was commander in July 2005.
When Stevens retired, he took three firearms with him that he was not authorized to take and no documentation was created to show he took them, according to the court documents. Stevens didn’t reimburse the county for the firearms either, according to the court documents.
Stevens told investigators that retired Sheriff Bob Edwards knew that Stevens left with the guns and according to court documents, Edwards told investigators that Stevens had expressed interest in keeping the weapons but would have to go through the proper channels to do so.
According to the documents, Edwards told investigators that Stevens had told him that wasn’t necessary.
Edwards told investigators that he wasn’t aware and didn’t authorize Stevens to take the firearms.
When Stevens retired, he was given a shotgun by the sheriff’s association. It was engraved, presented to him as a gift and the association reimbursed the county for the shotgun, according to the court documents.
In an interview with DCI investigators on Dec. 4, 2018, Stevens said he had the weapons at his residence. Later the same day the defendant turned some of the weapons into evidence.
According to court documents he was asked about the Glock 27 and the Rock River LAR 15 that weren’t returned with the others, Stevens told investigators that he had responded to a Craiglist ad in August 2018 and traded those for 2000 Artic Cat four-wheeler, which he had for personal use.
DCI agents located those two firearms and recovered them on Dec. 5, 2018.
The total value of the firearms and other items that Stevens allegedly took from CCSO is greater than $1,500 and less than $5,000.
According to the arrest warrant, Stevens’ bail was fixed at own recognizance.
Stevens had been the county disaster and emergency services coordinator since November 2017.
He was on administrative leave since December 2018 and and in April, county officials confirmed Stevens was no longer employed by the county.
A misdemeanor theft charge was also filed against Raymond Hitchcok, who was employed at CCSO for 27 years.
He is accused of taking a weapon with him after retiring that had been purchased with county funds.
On April 29, Hitchcock entered a not guilty plea in Justice Court.
Under the agreement, if Hitchcock is not charged or convicted of any other criminal or traffic code offenses for the next six months, the charge will be dismissed. The charge does not carry jail time.
The agreement requires Hitchcock to comply with any further investigation or request for testimony in the felony theft charge against former undersheriff John Stevens.
The agreement was filed in Justice Court on May 13.
The charge stemmed from the same investigation by the Division of Criminal Investigation within the Montana Department of Justice.
In August 2018, DCI was assigned to investigate allegations of theft occurring at CCSO, including Hitchcock, according to court documents.
During his time at CCSO, he was assigned multiple firearms, including a Glock 43, according to court documents.
The Glock 43 was purchased with county funds, according to county records.
When Hitchcock retired, he allegedly took the firearm with him without authorization or documentation and did not reimburse the county, according to court documents.
After being interviewed by DCI, he returned the weapon, which is valued at less than $1,500, according to court documents.
As was the case with Stevens, upon retirement, Hitchcock was presented with an engraved shotgun from the sheriff’s association, which reimbursed the county for the firearm.
Law enforcement officers are allowed to purchase firearms when they retire but there are rules.
State law allows retiring law enforcement officers who are eligible for a retirement benefit defined in the law to request to purchase firearms that have been issued to them and are legal for a private citizen to posses. If the request is accepted, the parties shall agree on the purchase price, not to exceed fair market value.