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Sheehy apologized and asked for leniency after alleged 2015 gun incident

Republican Senate candidate Tim Sheehy apologized and asked for leniency in 2015 after he said a gun he kept in his vehicle for bear protection fell and discharged, striking him in his right forearm in Glacier National Park, according to new National Park Service documents released through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The new documents, which provide additional detail about an incident first reported by The Washington Post this month, include a detailed written statement from Sheehy to a law enforcement officer regarding Sheehy having accidentally shot himself on Oct. 18, 2015 — an account that he now says was a lie.

“As a highly trained and combat experienced wounded veteran, I can assure you this was an unfortunate accident and we are grateful no other persons or property were damaged,” Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL, said in the 2015 statement apologizing for illegally discharging his weapon in the park. “Due to my ongoing security clearance and involvement with national defense related contracts, I request leniency with any charges related to this unfortunate accident.”

Sheehy, who has told voters he has a bullet in his arm from his time serving in Afghanistan, told The Post he made up the 2015 accidental gunshot story on that October day to cover up a wound he says he received in a 2012 firefight in Afghanistan.

A National Park Service summary of the incident, which was also included in the newly released documents, says an unidentified park visitor reported an accidental gun discharge in Logan Pass. That differs from Sheehy’s current account, that law enforcement was first contacted by personnel at a hospital that treated him for wounds that he now says he received from falling during a hike. The summary does not identify the park visitor who made the report of a gun discharge.

Sheehy, a decorated war veteran, is favored to win the GOP nomination to take on the vulnerable Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in the red state, which is key to Republicans’ plan to take control of the chamber.

The Park Service documents about the incident add to another record of the episode, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, which said Sheehy told a ranger that he accidentally shot himself in the right arm that day when his Colt .45 revolver fell and discharged while he was loading his vehicle in the park. He went to the hospital in Kalispell to treat his wounded arm, the records say, and first spoke to the ranger who responded to the incident there.

Sheehy said in his 2015 statement that a weapon kept in the vehicle for bear protection had been improperly placed and fell out when he was reloading his SUV. “My deepest apologies for any inconvenience this incident caused,” Sheehy said in the statement.

In The Post story published this month, however, Sheehy says that his gunshot wound that day was old, not fresh, and that he sought medical attention because he fell during a hike and feared he had dislodged a bullet in his arm from Afghanistan that he had never reported to his superiors, for fear of sparking an investigation into its origins. Sheehy said he believed the bullet may have been the result of a friendly fire ricochet during a nighttime firefight in April or May of 2012.

Sheehy also told The Post that hospital staff told him they were required to report the gunshot wound to authorities and so he decided to lie — first to hospital staff and then to the ranger — to ensure the story of his older wound wouldn’t trigger a military investigation that could harm his former platoonmates’ careers, according to his campaign and an attorney representing him.

“I guess the only thing I’m guilty of is admitting to doing something I never did,” Sheehy said of paying a $525 fine for illegally discharging his weapon in the national park. He now says the gun never went off.

The ranger’s report says “a park visitor called park dispatch” to report an accidental gun discharge at Logan Pass that day. The ranger was headed to Logan Pass to investigate the report from that unnamed visitor when park dispatch informed him that the person who fired the gun was at the Kalispell emergency room with a gunshot wound, the report said. The ranger drove there instead.

A lawyer for Sheehy, Daniel Watkins, called into question the existence of the park visitor, stating in a letter that the ranger never indicated that he interviewed that person as part of his report. Watkins posited that hospital staff, not a park visitor, notified park dispatch that Sheehy had shot himself at Logan Pass — after he lied to them — and that park dispatch later “clarified” to the ranger that the person was already at the hospital.

The Park Service has not released a copy of the dispatch logs from that day. Many Park Service records are retained for only five years.

Hospital officials have declined to comment on the specific incident. A spokeswoman said the hospital follows Montana state law requiring them to report gunshot and stabbing victims to the police. The campaign said this month that Sheehy was attempting to obtain medical records from his ER visit that day. Asked last week about whether he had received his medical records, the campaign declined to comment and directed The Post to Sheehy’s lawyer.

“The released reports corroborate the information we have provided, and they confirm Mr. Sheehy’s recollection of what took place,” Watkins wrote.

The ranger wrote in the newly released report that when he spoke to Sheehy at the hospital, Sheehy said he was “well aware of the other possible outcomes of a weapon firing accidentally” and paid the $525 fine for discharging his weapon with no qualms.

Sheehy also informed the ranger that he had been a Navy SEAL and had been shot before, the ranger’s report said.

Sheehy has offered varying accounts of how many times he was shot while serving and under what circumstances. In his 2023 memoir, “Mudslingers,” Sheehy wrote in one passage that he received multiple bullet wounds in Afghanistan. In another, he wrote that his body was hit by a bullet just once. In the book, he also offers varying accounts of how he was shot.

In one such account, Sheehy writes that he didn’t report being struck by a ricochet bullet because it was caused by friendly fire and he didn’t want the “total stud” who shot him to get into trouble. He now says he does not know for sure if he was wounded by friendly or enemy fire, and that there was not one particular person he believed could have been responsible.

Sheehy was awarded a Bronze Star with “V” for Valor and a Purple Heart for two separate incidents during his time serving as a SEAL in Afghanistan. The Purple Heart was awarded after he was knocked unconscious by an improvised explosive device blast, according to a local news report.

A former teammate recalled Sheehy saying he was struck by a ricochet bullet while they were serving together in 2012. That person, who was interviewed at the request of the Sheehy campaign, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is a military reservist and said he was not authorized to talk to the media. Other service members who served with Sheehy in Afghanistan either declined to comment or could not recall him discussing a gunshot wound.

Watkins, Sheehy’s lawyer, previously argued Sheehy could not have accidentally discharged the Colt .45 by dropping the gun in 2015 because “doing so is not possible based on the design of the weapon’s firing mechanism.”

Rick Vasquez, a firearms expert and former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official, said it would indeed be “very unlikely” for that weapon to misfire when dropped as Sheehy told the ranger.

Sheehy has campaigned in part on his experience as a combat veteran, saying the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 inspired him to run.

Sheehy was handpicked to run by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair who helped to effectively clear the primary field for the wealthy businessman and veteran who he believed was best positioned to defeat Tester. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) dropped out of the race in February following former president Donald Trump’s endorsement of Sheehy.

Daines and other prominent Montana Republicans defended Sheehy last week following the initial Post report.

Daines said veterans in the state are “outraged” by news coverage of the incident that he described as attacking an “American hero.”

“Tim Sheehy is only strengthening,” he said. “The guy is a Purple Heart American war hero.”

Daines said it was up to Sheehy whether he should release the medical records from the hospital.

“That’s his decision to sort that out,” Daines said of whether to release medical records.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who is also a former Navy SEAL and Sheehy supporter, noted that Sheehy already has a Purple Heart from a separate action in Afghanistan and that he believed veterans and service members would not have any concerns about the story. Zinke said it was Sheehy’s decision whether to release his records from his ER visit.

“I released my entire record and they were shocked on what an outstanding record looks like,” Zinke said of his 2014 House race, when he released military records after facing questions about his years serving in SEAL Team 6.

While Daines and other Republicans backed Sheehy, some have said the story has exacerbated tensions among Rosendale supporters in the state who resented Rosendale’s exit from the Senate race.

Rosendale lost to Tester in 2018 but nonetheless had a passionate following among some grass-roots conservatives in Montana.

“There was a lot of hostility from Rosendale supporters toward Sheehy and these kinds of stories about Sheehy are not going to help heal that rift,” said Matthew Monforton, a former Republican member of the Montana state legislature who broke with the party and is now a libertarian. “There’s a real fear that Sheehy was not vetted well.”

Brad Johnson, the former secretary of state of Montana and Sheehy challenger in the June Republican primary, slammed Sheehy in a statement provided to a local TV outlet. “This is what you get when a couple of DC insiders like Mitch McConnell and Steve Daines anoint an unknown, untested and unvetted candidate and then dictate to Montana Republicans who their nominee to the United States Senate is going to be,” he said.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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