BILLINGS – The Billings police officer who injured a bystander whom he tackled while pursuing a suspect in 2012 is not protected from litigation, the Montana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Robert Bassett originally filed the lawsuit in Yellowstone County District Court against Officer Paul LaMantia, alleging Lamantia failed to exercise reasonable care in performing his duties.
LaMantia and his partner responded to a neighborhood disturbance, and began pursuing a man on foot around 12:30 a.m.
According to court documents, LaMantia dropped his flashlight as he climbed over the retaining wall into Bassett’s backyard.
Bassett went outside to investigate the commotion as LaMantia searched for his flashlight.
“Fearing for his safety, LaMantia tackled Bassett to the ground,” state court documents. “LaMantia released Bassett as soon as he realized the Bassett was no threat.”
The impact caused Bassett to suffer a torn rotator cuff.
The case, which was moved to U.S. District Court in Billings, was dismissed in 2014 after a federal judge ruled in favor of the city of Billings.
The city had contended that Montana’s public-duty doctrine, which shields an officer’s discretionary choice made while carrying out his or her duty from a jury’s review, protected LaMantia.
After Bassett filed an appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asked the Montana Supreme Court to consider whether LaMantia is shielded by the public-duty doctrine.
According to the Tuesday ruling from the Montana Supreme Court, the doctrine does not protect an officer from liability for negligence that resulted in injury.
“While an officer must be afforded discretion in protecting the public and preserving the peace, it does not follow that an officer owes no other duties to those he encounters as he carries out his job responsibilities,” the high court ruled.
The high court ruled added that “an officer may owe a legal duty to a person injured directly by the officer’s affirmative actions.”
The justices said the issue of whether LaMantia breached the duty he owed to Bassett as an officer of the law and whether LaMantia’s actions caused Bassett’s injury should be left to a jury.
Reporting by Aja Goare for MTN News