BOZEMAN — It was a tragedy that shook the community and left a lasting impact on the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.
Charging documents say in February 2020,12-year-old James Alex Hurley was found dead in his grandparents' home after allegedly being beaten and tortured to death by members of his own family in West Yellowstone.
The then undersheriff and now current Sheriff Dan Springer wrote a COPS grant in response to the incident, asking Gallatin County Commissioners to approve his request to create a new program to make sure children in the county never fall through the cracks.
The grant resulted in the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Family Outreach Program, which launched in May of this year.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Family Outreach Program calls for two part-time deputies to work towards preventing tragedies from taking place in a more community-oriented manner.
I did a ride-along with the deputies to get a better understanding of what their day-to-day looks like.
The term “dynamic duo” comes to mind when you watch deputies Tom Pallach and Kaelin Kiesel working as family liaisons for the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.
Pallach, with decades of experience in child-related crimes and Kiesel, a former kindergarten teacher, are tasked with a big job: finding the most vulnerable that may be slipping through the cracks.
“There’s a lot of resources available for victims. What we’re talking about though are not victims that are already in the system that have been identified, it’s that gap between the criminal justice system, child protective services and the schools,” said Undersheriff Jermey Kopp.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office says it’s really a partnership between the school system, department of public health and human services and law enforcement.
And I got to see that firsthand while shadowing the deputies.
Our day started off with home visits to families who hadn’t turned in required home-school hours in the county.
“The family liaison deputy, one of the jobs that we have is to check on kids that are truant,” said Deputy Kiesel from her cruiser.
“If they haven’t recorded for a couple of years, their attendance records, we’ll go check on them. So we’re just making sure they’re okay.”
From there, the deputies helped hand out free lunches in Three Forks, getting to know kids, families and teachers; setting the groundwork for real connections.
“We’re looking for the little indicators and we’re looking for the relationship building on the front end that’s going to prevent the tragedy on the back end,” said Kopp.
“And maybe we can preempt a tragedy from happening, whether it’s criminal or accidental negligence.”
My ride-along with the deputies ended after checking on an elderly woman a week after a welfare call.
While I didn’t film the check-in, you can tell, she was grateful to have visitors.
“It just gets us out there so we know our community members and we have facetime with them,” said Kiesel.
“We want to make sure we keep current on their lives and make sure they know that they can call us if they need to.”
The Gallatin County Sheriff's Office says the program is just starting, and an additional civilian social service employee will soon join the team.