Sheriff’s deputy pleads not guilty to a charge of felony sexual abuse

Posted at 9:30 AM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-17 14:37:13-04

Valley County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Strommen, charged with felony sexual abuse of a child, appeared in District Court in Glasgow on Tuesday afternoon.

He appeared before District Court Judge John Larson of Missoula via video with Assistant Attorney General David Buchler and attorney Casey Moore on Tuesday. Valley County District Court Judge Yvonne Laird and County Attorney Dylan Jensen both recused themselves from the case.

According to the Glasgow Courier, Strommen pleaded not guilty to the charge, and was released with conditions set by the court: he can can not be at a public forum where children are present without the accompaniment of his wife or another adult. That stipulatino will allow him to attend his children’s events as well as attend family events. He will also be able to pick up his kids from school within an agreed upon distance away from the school and other children. Strommen is allowed to use the internet on a family device, as long as the device is available to law enforcement for viewing.

Luke Strommen (Valley County jail booking photo)
Luke Strommen (Valley County jail booking photo)

According to court documents provided to the Glasgow Courier, in May 2018, Agent Bruce McDermott of the Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), received a phone call from Valley County Sheriff Vernon Buerkle regarding allegations of improprieties of a sexual nature regarding then-Valley County Undersheriff Luke Strommen. During the course of Agent McDermott’s investigation, a possible crime victim was identified.

The charges filed in District Court stem from Strommen’s receipt of two images of a sexually explicit nature that he solicited from the alleged victim while she was 17 years old. At that time the two were in a consensual sexual relationship.

The victim confirmed she met Strommen in 2014, when she was 17 years old, during a traffic stop while he was on duty. The victim confirmed an intimate relationship started, lasting a year, during which time the two would communicate via phone, text, and email. They would also meet for sexual encounters; the victim said the majority of these meeting would be while Strommen was in uniform and on duty. The victim also confirmed much of their communication was sexually explicit.

During their relationship, Strommen encouraged the victim via phone, text, and email to send him sexual images of herself. The defendant also encouraged her to engage in sexual conduct and send him photographs of that conduct.

Investigators were provided the cell phone utilized by the victim in 2014 to communicate with the defendant in order to confirm text message and picture exchanges. A forensic examination of the phone was conducted with the victim’s consent, and numerous conversations, as well as images, between the victim and defendant were located. The victim confirmed Strommen provided her with an e-mail address under the name of Drew Neslan, and requested that she send illicit pictures to the address.

Court documents state that an examination of the victim’s iPhone mail app revealed a conversation initiated by the Defendant on March 23, 2014, where he asked the victim, “Did you try that thing on yourself we talked about?” On April 6, 2014, at 9:33 p.m., the victim sent a picture of a sexual act to the e-mail address Strommen previously provided. She confirmed to investigators she took this image of herself and sent it to the defendant at the defendant’s request. Agent McDermott then correlated this information with text messages that were extracted from the iPhone from the same date and approximate time.

Agent McDermott indicated in court documents a call was made soliciting the photograph after the text message exchange started. When the defendant indicated nothing had been received yet at 9:33 p.m., the victim then complied and sent the image. Strommen thanked her, confirming he was in possession of the photograph of her engaged in sexual conduct.

During the course of the investigation, Agent McDermott corroborated the defendant’s tactics and behavior with statements by multiple witnesses and other involved parties. Based on the facts found during the investigation, DCI recommended the charge and Assistant Attorney General and Special Deputy Valley County Attorney Daniel Guzynski believes probable cause exists to charge the defendant with the offense of sexual abuse of a child (felony).

Strommen was placed on paid administrative leave on June 15, pending the results of this investigation.

At the time the investigation was started, Strommen was the undersheriff for the Valley County Sheriff’s department and was a candidate in the Valley County Sheriff’s race. On August 13, Strommen removed his name from the running for the Sheriff’s position.

Information provided by the Glasgow Courier.

(July 31, 2018) Valley County Undersheriff Luke Strommen has been placed on paid administrative leave since June. Strommen is currently being investigated for an incident that happened four years ago.

Valley County Sheriff's Deputy Luke Strommen
Valley County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Strommen

In a press release, Sheriff Vernon Buerkle said the investigation is being conducted by the Division of Criminal Investigation of the Montana Department of Justice.

The incident that led to the investigation happened under the leadership of Sheriff Glen Meier, who retired early in 2017. Details of the investigation are not being released by the sheriff’s office or state investigators, but in a statement released June 18 Buerkle said: “This action is the result of an ongoing investigation being conducted by investigators from the Montana Department of Justice for an incident which occurred approximately four years ago.”

Strommen is currently running against Joe Horn for the position of Valley County Sheriff.

A spokesman for the Montana Department of Justice confirmed Tuesday that DCI is investigating Strommen for allegations of official misconduct. The state agency’s involvement came at the request of the sheriff.

The spokesman said that when the investigation is complete, prosecutors in the Montana Attorney General’s Office will review the case file and make a determination of possible charges.

Strommen could not be reached for comment.