Gallatin County Detention Center

Gallatin County jail is shown in this Chronicle file photo.

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Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin has asked law enforcement in the county to cite and release people for nonviolent misdemeanors rather than bringing them to jail, a move meant to prevent the new coronavirus from reaching inmates.

Gootkin sent an email on Monday asking police chiefs from Belgrade, Bozeman, Manhattan, West Yellowstone and Montana State University to cite and release people for violations like trespassing and theft. The email was also sent to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport Police Chief Bill Dove and Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Mark Wilfore.

“We just need to make sure that the people who need to go in there, go in there,” Gootkin said. “And that we have the room to put them in there.”

He said law enforcement would not be “turning the other cheek” for those violations.

“We’re not ignoring it; we’re still addressing it,” Gootkin said.

He said that law enforcement would still jail people for crimes committed against another person and drunk driving violations.

Since that order was put in place, he said, the jail has seen the number of inmates holding steady with around 130 people being kept there.

Gootkin said in the email that he is doing everything to keep the jail clean and operational, and could use other agencies’ help.

“We will be screening in booking for flu-like symptoms and if the arrestee has them, we will be asking you to get them medically cleared,” Gootkin said in the email.

On Wednesday, Missoula County issued an order saying its jail wouldn’t accept people who have been charged with a misdemeanor. That order also prohibited people from being booked into the jail who have been arrested on a warrant or for not appearing to court for non-violent misdemeanor violations.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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