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A Montana State University police officer has been suspended after an investigation found that she violated the department’s code of conduct and safety policies during a January traffic stop.

MSU released a report Thursday outlining what happened when Officer Angela Roundtree got involved in a Jan. 8 traffic stop and had a verbal altercation with Krystle Saatjian, who was pulled over for speeding. During the altercation, Roundtree told Saatjian “this isn’t where you came from.” Saatjian is black.

The department found that Roundtree’s behavior was unprofessional but did not conclude that she showed racial bias.

Roundtree’s 40-hour suspension, or four days of work, began Thursday. She also spent a few weeks on administrative duty immediately after the incident.

The report concludes that Roundtree failed to de-escalate a tense situation. Instead, the report says, she was “unprofessional, discourteous, and antagonistic” in a manner that escalated the situation, “placing all parties involved in increased danger.” The report outlines seven sections of the MSU police department code of conduct that Roundtree violated.

The report also says that Roundtree displayed “poor officer safety” for standing square to the driver’s side door with her arms folded, for standing too far in the lane of traffic next to the car and for not changing her position when Saatjian became increasingly upset.

Roundtree acknowledged in interviews with the investigating officer that she had not behaved professionally or safely.

The police department also investigated whether Roundtree displayed racial bias by telling Saatjian “this isn’t where you came from.” Saatjian has lived in Bozeman for 10 years. According to the report, Saatjian said during the interaction that she believed she had been pulled over because of her race.

In interviews with superiors, Roundtree said it was a misunderstanding and that she was trying to say the opposite — that Saatjian must not know police officers in Montana or she would not accuse them of racial bias.

On that point, the investigation was “unable to establish racial bias within the preponderance of evidence needed to sustain the allegation.”

Judith Heilman, executive director of the Montana Racial Equity Project and a former police officer, said it doesn’t matter what Roundtree’s intent was, but how it was received. She said the statement, “this isn’t where you came from,” equates to saying, “you don’t belong here.”

“It doesn’t matter whether or not she meant for it to be racist. It was received as racist by the driver, by me and by every black and non-black person I work with professionally, both inside Montana and across the country, in the racial justice and equity field,” Heilman said.

Heilman said it’s clear that Roundtree displayed racial bias during the interaction.

MSU Police Chief Frank Parrish said Roundtree was given additional training on de-escalating tense situations after the incident, something all officers receive in police training. He has also been talking with Heilman about providing further racial sensitivity training for officers, another training all officers receive.

“We’ve worked very hard to establish the public’s trust and when something like this happens, it’s an isolated situation, but we take it very seriously,” Parrish said.

The investigation began the same day the traffic stop took place. Roundtree requested a superior officer review her body camera footage because she thought “a citizens’ complaint would follow based on her actions,” according to the report.

Sergeant Thomas Luhrsen, the investigating officer, compiled an account of what happened through interviews with Saatjian, officers on scene and their body camera footage. The incident began when Officer Josh Falkos pulled Saatjian over for driving 48 mph in a 35 mph zone, although Saatjian disputes that she was driving that fast.

According to the report, Saatjian told Falkos she didn’t feel comfortable dealing with white police officers. Saatjian told the Chronicle later that she felt uneasy thinking about reports of police brutality across the country.

Falkos requested assistance and Officer Roundtree and Officer Katherine Licht responded. Saatjian began recording the interaction with her cell phone camera and later posted part of that video to Facebook. The video has since been removed from Facebook.

The situation escalated as Roundtree talked with Saatjian. Roundtree told Saatjian it seemed like she was “playing a game.” The report says Saatjian responded with “an assertive, direct, gesticulatory response.” Saatjian repeatedly told Roundtree that she wished to speak with a different officer, but Roundtree continued to talk to her.

After Roundtree returned to her patrol car, Falkos finished the traffic stop cordially with Saatjian and gave her a warning for speeding. Saatjian later told the Chronicle that Falkos was professional and courteous throughout the interaction.

Michael Becker, MSU spokesperson, said the university stands behind the report’s findings and the disciplinary action taken.

Saatjian didn’t respond to a request for comment before deadline Thursday.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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