Three Montana Highway Patrol troopers and the organization's former chief have been dismissed from a federal lawsuit against multiple Gallatin County law enforcement officials.
Marion and Francis “Toby” Howell of Belgrade filed the suit in June in U.S. District Court in Butte, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, civil rights violations, negligence, defamation, emotional distress and other claims.
Named in the lawsuit are Gallatin County Sheriff's Office deputies Travis Earl, Kelli Munter, Scott Secor, James Anderson, David Johnson and former sheriff Jim Cashell. The state of Montana is also a defendant in the case.
However, this week U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy dismissed from the case MHP troopers Michael Walrath, James Sulages and Justin Braun and former MHP Chief Mike Tooley.
The Howells' claims against Tooley were deficient, Molloy ruled, and the troopers were immune from liability for the Howells' claims.
According to the complaint:
On June 26, 2011, eight deputies and troopers responded when the Howells' son, Shapleigh, reportedly drove off a road between Belgrade and Manhattan and struck an abandoned trailer around 10:30 p.m.
While investigating, law enforcement went to the Howells' house at 175 Rattler Road, about a quarter of a mile from the crash scene.
The suit claims that deputies “suddenly…threw (Francis) against the side of his pickup, knocking his cap and glasses off” and injured the 78-year-old man's shoulder and wrists when they pinned his arm behind him and cuffed him.
A short time later, the officers decided not to arrest Francis and removed the handcuffs. But then the officers changed their minds and handcuffed Francis a second time and placed him into one of the patrol cars. Once again, however, law enforcement decided not to arrest Francis and released him from the patrol car and handcuffs.
“Toby did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and he was not actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest,” wrote Terry Shaplow, the Howells' attorney.
At about 11 p.m., the suit said troopers went into the Howells' home without ringing the doorbell, knocking or identifying themselves. Without a search warrant, the troopers then began interrogating Marion, who was 77 years old at the time, in “angry, harsh, intimidating tones and words.”
Marion was never given her Miranda rights, the suit says, and she felt like a captive in her home, Shaplow argued.
Despite asking them to stop questioning her and requesting a lawyer multiple times, the troopers continued to interrogate Marion, the suit claims.
Marion was later charged with obstructing justice. However, law enforcement withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from Marion for over a year, the suit claims. It took multiple requests to receive audio and video recordings from the night and set up interviews with troopers who responded, the suit said.
The charge against Marion was eventually dropped.
Defense attorney Elizabeth O'Halloran said the defendants deny the Howells' allegations and requested that the case be dismissed.
Defendants claim that Francis behaved aggressively and was not responsive to deputies' requests. Francis intermittently pocketed his hands, even after being instructed by Earl to keep them visible.
“In order to ensure the safety of all, Toby Howell was temporarily restrained until he calmed down,” O'Halloran wrote.
The Howells are seeking unspecified damages and attorneys fees. A jury trial is scheduled to begin June 30.