Billings police Officer Grant Morrison, who was reprimanded for being cited by Laurel police for keeping pot-bellied pigs at his home and who recently pleaded not guilty to a state charge of possessing unlawfully captured deer fawns, has also been reprimanded for wrongfully obtaining criminal justice information for his private use.
A “corrective action form” issued to Morrison in September, and obtained by Last Best News in a public information request, said the officer was given a written reprimand after seeking information for private use from the Criminal Justice Information Network and the National Crime Information Center.
That was a violation of department policy, and under a new state law that went into effect Oct. 1—too late to have any bearing on this case—it could have been prosecuted as a misdemeanor crime.
Morrison, 32, who was found to have committed justifiable homicide in two fatal on-duty shootings in two years, has been with the Billings Police Department since 2009. He returned to patrol duty briefly after the inquest into the second shooting and he is now assigned to a Drug Enforcement Administration prescription drug diversion task force, based in Billings.
Police Chief Rich St. John said Tuesday that Morrison’s CJIN/NCIC violations, and the department’s response to them, were reported to the state Division of Criminal Investigation, in the Department of Justice, which oversees law enforcement agencies.
“They were satisfied with the remedies that took place and there’ll be no sanctions on the department,” St. John said.
DCI Administrator Bryan Lockerby said that was true, but that based on new information his office received Tuesday, he will be seeking information and clarification from the police department.
Jennifer Viets, the program manager of the Justice Department’s CJIN Services Section, said that when the BPD initially reported Morrison’s violations, the state understood that Morrison had only requested the information and that nothing was released to him.
She said that understanding was challenged by information in an article published last week on the Montana News Association website. (See editor’s note at the bottom of this story.) And at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, her office received a packet of information from Donald Cyphers, proprietor of the MNA website, which included the corrective action forms issued to Morrison.
Her office hadn’t previously seen those reports, Viets said, and they would have to be reviewed to see if they shed any new light on the situation. But she did say, after a cursory examination of the documents, that apparently no CJIN information was actually given to Morrison.
And Police Chief Rich St. John, in an email to Last Best News, said flatly that “It was my understanding nothing was shared.” But still later in the day, after he spoke again with Lockerby, St. John acknowledged that there were discrepancies between the corrective action form and what was reported to the state.
“I am aware of the discrepancy and we will resolve that ASAP,” St. John said in a follow-up email. “It is a matter of reconciling what our records supervisor told Veits when we first reported the violation by phone as opposed to the what the corrective action says.”
The corrective action form released by the city clearly states that Morrison did receive criminal justice information from some of his colleagues in the BPD before a supervisor intervened and said such activity violated CJIN/NCIC rules.
According to the form, Morrison, who lives in Laurel, called the BPD on Thursday, Sept. 3, asking for a driver’s license check on Linda Ramirez. She is a cousin of Richard Ramirez, one of the men Morrison shot and killed.
The notice said Morrison asked Officer Robert Ellison, who was working the BPD front desk, to send him Linda Ramirez’s driver’s license information and photograph. Ellison relayed the request to Tressa Huett, a secretary, “who obtained the requested information” for Morrison, according to the city document.
Morrison later called back asking for a registration check on a vehicle license plate, and Ellison told him it was registered to a woman whose last name was Nilsen.
The form said Morrison told Ellison that the vehicle in question was stalking his home and that he wanted Nilsen’s photo and license information. He said his wife had gotten a good look at the driver of the vehicle and wanted to see if her recollection matched Nilsen’s photo.
Ellison relayed that request to Huett, but this time Huett notified Sgt. Neil Lawrence, and Lawrence said the request violated CJIN/NCIC rules. Lawrence called Morrison and told him the same thing, but Morrison said he only wanted to show the photo to his wife so they could ask the Laurel Police Department to investigate.
Morrison was issued a written reprimand for that violation, the same discipline he had received in June, after Laurel police officers issued him three citations for keeping prohibited animals, pigs. The reprimand also said that Morrison’s Laurel residence had been the subject of “numerous complaints” about Morrison’s keeping unlicensed dogs.
In September, Morrison was cited by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for possessing “unlawfully captured deer fawns.” He entered a plea of not guilty on Oct. 14. St. John said he would relay an interview request from Last Best News to Morrison, but Morrison did not attempt to make contact.
St. John said he will do nothing about the state citation until the case has been settled. As for the other violations, he said, the BPD uses a system of “progressive discipline” that emphasizes education over punishment. The department invests a lot of time and money in officer training, he said, so unless officers are unfit to serve, every effort is made to retain them if they show a willingness to learn from their mistakes.
St. John said Morrison’s attempt to obtain CJIN information was wrong, and that he should simply have gone to the Laurel PD if he thought someone was stalking or harassing him, but the incident “really wasn’t a big, big violation.”
He said the animal violations in Laurel were unrelated to the CJIN violations, so offering progressive discipline in the form of written reprimands in both cases seemed warranted. If Morrison is found guilty of the deer-possession charge, St. John said, it might be necessary to “ramp up” the discipline.
In February 2013, Morrison shot and killed Jason James Shaw, and in August of that year a coroner’s jury determined that the shooting was noncriminal, justifiable homicide. According to testimony at the inquest, Shaw ignored Morrison’s commands and reached for what turned out to be a BB gun replica of a Walther P99 handgun.
On April 14, 2014, during a traffic stop on the South Side, Morrison shot and killed Richard Ramirez, who was a backseat passenger in a car and who reportedly ignored commands to keep his hands up. He was later found to have been unarmed. In January, a coroner’s jury ruled that that shooting, too, was justifiable homicide.
Editor’s note: We have had ample, excellent reasons to mock the Montana News Association, but we also have to acknowledge that it did the first reporting on Morrison’s illegal use of the CJIN/NCIC information. It’s like that old saying about the blind pig.