Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Ex-cop seeks to limit evidence at trial with city

In the ongoing lawsuit filed by a former Columbus police officer against the city, a motion to exclude evidence has been filed in District Court in Billings, and a decision awaits.

Michael San Souci, the Bozeman lawyer representing ex-Columbus Police Officer Paul Caraway, has filed a motion asking the court to exclude or limit certain evidence when the case comes before a jury, although a trial date has yet to be set.
Caraway is suing the City of Columbus for wrongful termination. A mediation hearing in early August was unsuccessful.
The motion targets evidence related to a Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) report that followed an approximately three-month investigation.
The DCI investigation took place during the summer of 2015, immediately following a July 2015 accusation against Caraway of sexual assault filed by a Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher. The DCI investigation was requested by the police chief at the time.
In September 2015, the City of Columbus was informed by Montana Assistant Attorney General Brant Light that the DCI investigation found that, while inappropriate actions may have taken place, no charges would be filed due to credibility issues with both the dispatcher and Caraway.
An internal investigation by the city regarding Caraway’s actions took place immediately following the DCI investigation and findings, resulting in pre-termination and termination letters to Caraway in November 2015.
Seven factors contributing to Caraway’s termination were listed in the pre-termination letter, including sexually inappropriate conversations and comments to a female dispatcher at work and unauthorized meetings with another woman while on duty.
In the motion, Caraway’s attorney characterizes the DCI report as an “extensive investigative file” that delved deep into Caraway’s past, and that “Caraway described much of the information contained in the file as inaccurate and based on unreliable rumor.”
The motion calls for the court to limit evidence used from the DCI report to only that which pertains to the information in the November 2015 pre-termination and termination letters.
Caraway alleges that using other information from the DCI report “would be manifestly unfair and highly prejudicial to Caraway, as well as potentially misleading to the jury, if largely unreliable, and oftentimes remote, information of this nature were to be admitted at the time of trial.”

Caraway is also seeking the suppression of evidence regarding income sources Caraway and his wife have, including Caraway’s unemployment compensation and pension benefits, and his wife’s disability retirement income.
Caraway’s pension comes from his work in the Sheriff’s Office prior to working with the Columbus Police Department.
It argues that such incomes can not be used as evidence to off-set or reduce the amount of potential damages.
Caraway is seeking an amount that would include, among other things, the value of lost employee benefits and up to six years of lost wages.

Defendants in the lawsuit are the City of Columbus, the mayor, and the former police chief. They are represented by Gerry Fagan and Adam Tunning of Moulton Bellingham law firm in Billings.
In a response document, in regards to limiting or excluding evidence related to the DCI report, the defense argues that the motion is too broad and evidence that is admissible most likely would be included in what the plaintiff seeks to limit.
The response details how the lawsuit, filed by the plaintiff in September 2016, is based on allegations that the city failed to provide a sufficient termination process, and the city did not have good cause for terminating Caraway.
The issues found in the DCI investigation spilled over into the city’s investigation and termination letters, according to the defendants’ response. While the information included in the letters provided enough good cause for termination, the response argues that “those issues, though, require the admission of additional evidence outside the letters themselves to help the jury understand the context of the charge and why it was severe enough to merit termination.”
As for deeming outside incomes inadmissible, the defense says the intention is not to use the information to off-set the amount of potential lost earnings, but rather to provide information to support the claim that Caraway was not intending on working until age 62.
Caraway was 55-years-old when he was terminated, and according to the response to the motion, “there is a question of fact when Plaintiff would have retired and Defendants are entitled to present evidence which makes it ‘less probable’ that he would have worked through age 62.”
During a deposition prior to the mediation hearing, Caraway said he had considered retiring “every year.”
The defendants’ response claims the inclusion of pension and disability benefits accrued by Caraway and his wife “is directly relevant to Plaintiff’s intention and ability to retire it is admissible to rebut his damages claim seeking up to six years lost wages.”