The recently retired chief of the Montana Highway Patrol was disciplined in 2008 and 2011 for inappropriate comments he made to subordinates under his command.
Col. Kenton Hickethier announced Friday that he is retiring effective Sept. 30 after just seven months on the job.
According to memos contained in Hickethier’s personnel file, the former captain was twice officially reprimanded for violating Montana Highway Patrol policy, which requires officers to “treat supervisors, subordinates, and associates with respect and courtesy.”
The incidents came to light in the wake of a discrimination complaint filed against Hickethier earlier this summer.
The first incident occurred in March 7, 2008. According to the disciplinary memo in Hickethier’s file, on that date Hickethier told a female trooper that other troopers were upset with her and, “If she were a man they would take her behind the woodshed.”
A second incident occurred the week of Aug. 16, 2011, at a law enforcement meeting in Phoenix.
According to his personnel file, at that event Hickethier made inappropriate comments “in regard to the age of (an unidentified trooper’s) spouse, a joke in regard to a female instructor’s weight, and a comment about (an unidentified trooper) having dinner with black troopers from North Carolina.”
According to the memos, Hickethier “took responsibility” for his comments.
John Barnes, a spokesman for Attorney General Tim Fox, said the disciplinary records came to light after a Montana Highway Patrol employee filed a discrimination complaint against Hickethier with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Human Rights Bureau. Fox’s office was notified of the complaint July 10.
“In preparing our response to that complaint we became aware of the fact that Col. Hickethier, prior to being named colonel, had been disciplined for two instances of making inappropriate comments to troopers,” Barnes said.
Barnes said the decision to retire was entirely Hickethier’s.
“The Attorney General’s Office did not ask him to retire,” Barnes said.
Barnes said Hickethier notified Fox’s office Wednesday of his decision.
“I regret that I have made inappropriate remarks to subordinates that have compromised my ability to effectively lead Montana’s Highway Patrol by example. Therefore, I have chosen to retire from the patrol,” Hickethier said in a written statement released by Fox’s office Friday. “I am sorry for these mistakes and any harm they may have brought to Montana’s finest law enforcement agency, which has been the center of my life for the last 28 years.”
News of Hickethier’s retirement was held until after Friday afternoon’s graduation ceremony for new Montana Highway Patrol troopers.
“We felt it would not be appropriate for that announcement to interfere with that ceremony,” Barnes said.
Barnes said Fox’s transition team found no red flags while reviewing Hickethier’s application for chief of the Montana Highway Patrol that would have triggered a review of his personnel records.
“During the transition process every applicant for every appointed position was asked if there was anything in their background that was problematic or inappropriate and they were asked for permission, if necessary, to review their personnel record,” Barnes said. “(Hickethier) interviewed very well, he had a very strong resume, and he had absolutely glowing reference checks. Based on all of that there was no reason to believe there was a problem, and so those past incidents referenced in 2008 and 2011 were not known.”
Hickethier is no longer serving for the Montana Highway Patrol and is using up leave time until his official retirement date. His home telephone number is not listed, so he could not be reached for comment.