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The state of Montana, Gallatin County and a highway patrol trooper all deny allegations that the officer discriminated against a Colorado couple when he seized their cars and asked if the man was “legal here.”

The complaint, filed in federal court in July, alleges trooper Tyler Brant illegally detained the couple and seized their cars. It also claims the seized vehicles were returned damaged and the property inside them was destroyed.

The couple — Mikayla McNea and Xavier Giles — are asking a federal judge to set a jury trial to determine damages for their mental and physical suffering. They are represented by Timothy Bechtold, a Missoula lawyer.

In a response filed last Friday, the defendants denied the allegations. Brant had probable cause to seize the plaintiffs’ cars and acted “without malice or deliberate indifference to plaintiffs’ rights,” said the response filed by Courtney Cosgrove, a lawyer with the Montana Risk Management and Tort Defense Division.

In a separate response filed by Cosgrove for Gallatin County, the county denied that the trooper’s actions stemmed from policies and procedures it had implemented.

Cosgrove also maintained that the couple “acted negligently” during the incident and prohibited the defense from inspecting the damaged car before filing the complaint. And, she said, people outside of the county’s responsibility were responsible for the damage.

In December, Brant and an unidentified officer pulled over Giles and McNea, who were driving separate cars each with Colorado license plates, on Interstate 90 near Bozeman.

McNea told the officer that Giles got a job at the Montana State Prison, and the two were moving from Colorado. The officer returned to his car.

Brant subsequently told the couple that a caller reported two cars matching theirs were speeding and driving recklessly. But, court documents say, Giles was stopped for expired tags on his car.

Brant asked for a police dog to search the two cars, and said the dog “hit” on the man’s car. He asked to search it.

Giles declined the request, saying there was no basis for the search, court documents say. McNea was then placed inside an officer’s car.

Brant asked her if Giles was “legal here” and later clarified he meant whether Giles was legal “here in the United States,” court documents say. McNea said the man had a Montana license and was born and raised in the United States.

Brant asked McNea if Giles had gone to Mexico in the past and why he would have gone, court documents say.

McNea told Brant that Giles hadn’t gone to Mexico in the seven years they were a couple. The couple’s cars were seized, and an officer took them to a hotel.

The next day they got their cars back. The lawsuit alleges each vehicle was “ransacked” and several of their belongings were destroyed. They said each car had new dents, scratches and scuffs. They also found damage to the seats, wiring, lights and center console, the lawsuit maintains.

The couple said the next morning a separate highway patrol trooper stopped the man as the couple was leaving Bozeman, according to court documents. They said in the complaint they would not move to Montana “because of the treatment they received from the defendants.”

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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