Former Wibaux law enforcement officer enters pleas of not guilty in District Court

Hunter Herbaugh
Thursday, November 17, 2022
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Joshua Harris

Joshua Harris, a former deputy sheriff for Wibaux County, made his initial appearance in 7th Judicial District Court on Tuesday on multiple charges of sexual crimes against children. Appearing via Zoom from the Dawson County Correctional Facility, Harris entered a plea of not guilty to eight charges of incest, two charges of sexual assault and one count of sexual intercourse without consent, all felonies.

If convicted of the charges, Harris could face a maximum sentence of up to 100 years in prison on each charge and be required to register as a sexual offender.

He is currently being held at the DCCF on a $500,000 bond. During the trial, Hailey Forcella, Harris’s attorney, moved to have the bond amount significantly reduced or have Harris released during the time leading up to the trial in the case. In making the motion, she noted Harris’ lack of significant financial resources, his lack of a prior criminal record and the fact he lives in Big Timber away from the alleged victims as just some of the reasons why his bond should be lowered.

She added that Harris will also soon be represented by another attorney, Lyndon Scheveck, appointed via the public defender’s office in Billings, and that it would be easier for them to communicate if he were released for the time being.

The state, represented by Jordan Salo, objected to the motion, pointing to the fact that Harris had contacted the alleged victims during the investigation prior to his arrest. She said that the state had concerns for the safety of the victims and the community should Harris be released.

Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Olivia Rieger, who is presiding over this case, ultimately denied the motion, noting the seriousness of the case and the multitude of the charges. She added that her denial of the current motion does not prohibit Harris from requesting a bond hearing as the case progresses.

“I am not going to reduce bail, currently, due to the multitude and seriousness of the charges. However, Mr. Scheveck could request a bail hearing at a later date,” Rieger said.

According to court documents, the charges against Harris stem from an incident on or about Aug. 23, 2022 when Department of Criminal Investigations Agent Craig Baum was notified of the allegations against Harris. The allegations were initially received by the Wibaux County Sheriff’s Office but the case was forwarded to DCI as the WCSO felt Harris’ previous employment constituted a conflict of interest. Harris was a deputy sheriff in Wibaux County from 2015 to 2021.

The allegations were made by Harris’ first alleged victim, referred to in court documents as “V1.” V1 alleged Harris had subjected her to numerous instances of inappropriate sexual contact and inappropriate comments regarding her body over a period of several years, beginning around the time she was eight years old.

V1 disclosed this information to investigators during a forensic interview. She also described Harris’ abuse being directed at two other victims, referred to in court documents as V2 and V3, also occurring over a period of several years. All instances were alleged to have happened in Wibaux County with all victims being under the age of 18, according to court documents.

In forensic interviews with V2 and V3, the two provided details to investigators that corroborated parts of V1’s account, as well as provided additional details. Interviews with other witnesses also provided additional details, with some of those interviewed testifying to witnessing Harris make lewd comments in regards to V1 in social settings.

Harris was arrested in Big Timber following the investigation, with Forcella noting that Harris turned himself in after learning there was a warrant issued for his arrest.

A trial in the case is currently scheduled for April 3. The next hearing will be an omnibus hearing on Dec. 13.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@rangerreview. com.