Roosevelt County Sheriff Freedom Crawford says he experienced a spiritual awakening while in an alcohol treatment program that he entered following his arrest for allegedly throwing a man through a window in a bar fight.
Crawford returned to work on Tuesday after completing a 28-day treatment program at the Rimrock Foundation in Billings. While there, he was diagnosed with alcohol dependency and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his 12-year career in law enforcement, he said.
He said the program was enlightening and believes that it, coupled with continued counseling, will help him become a better family man, community member and sheriff.
"I asked God for courage and guidance in helping with my recovery. And the answer I received was I needed to get my priorities in order," Crawford said.
Crawford, 34, checked into the rehab program almost a month after his Aug. 2 arrest that stemmed from an early morning bar fight in Lewistown. He and several deputies were providing security for a court hearing on whether Barry Beach should be granted another trial in the 1979 beating death of Poplar teen Kim Nees.
A bartender at the Montana Tavern called police at about 12:20 a.m. that morning to report that a man had thrown another man through the bar's front window. Authorities say the victim, a 48-year-old Pennsylvania man, suffered cuts to his face.
Crawford pleaded not guilty Aug. 11 before Lewistown City Court Jack Shields to misdemeanor charges of assault, criminal mischief, obstructing a peace officer, and disorderly conduct. Crawford posted a $3,500 bond and is scheduled for a bench trial on Oct. 21.
After his arrest, the chairman of the Roosevelt County Commission called for Crawford's resignation. Crawford wrote an open letter of apology published in the Herald-News of Wolf Point in which he said he would not resign.
He declined to speak about the specific charges on the advice of his attorney, but he acknowledged that night in Lewistown "sparked a lot of debate."
"I recognized it stemmed from my use of alcohol and I take full responsibility for my actions," he said.
Crawford has been Roosevelt County sheriff since January 2007 and has worked for the sheriff's office for 12 years. He began his law enforcement career as a police officer with the Fort Peck Tribes for six months and has served in the Army and North Dakota Army National Guard.
"My whole adult life, all I've known is public service," Crawford said. "Law enforcement had become the most important thing in my life and I was dead wrong. My most important priority in life is maintaining my spiritual connection with God, and in turn becoming a better husband and father to my six daughters."
Crawford said he will continue receiving care from a local counselor to deal with his alcohol dependency.
"It's not about how you fall off your horse, it's about how you get back on," he said.