RED LODGE—A woman who said she was unlawfully arrested and injured during a recent drug raid in Bearcreek by Red Lodge police officers sued the city of Red Lodge on Friday, asking for at least $1 million in damages.
Red Lodge attorneys A.W. “Tony” Kendall and Raymond Kuntz filed the suit in Carbon County District Court on behalf of Tiffany McKinney against the city, Police Chief Steve Hibler, Officer Greg Srock and three unnamed John Does.
The lawsuit repeats some of the charges against Hibler, Srock and the Police Department that were made in a recent letter from Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon to Mayor Ed Williams. In that letter, Nixon said that the search warrant may have been obtained fraudulently and that the raid reportedly was poorly handled, leaving the city open to “a serious liability.”
The lawsuit itself does not put a price tag on the damages being sought, but in an accompanying document of “preliminary disclosure,” it says general damages for violations of McKinney’s civil rights and the defendants’ wrongful acts “are computed at not less than One Million Dollars.”
The Red Lodge Police Department “has no jurisdiction or authority” in Bearcreek, an incorporated city six miles east of Red Lodge, the suit said, and yet on Jan. 23 Srock applied for a warrant to search the home of Stacey Palmer and William Michael Evans Jr. at 112 N. First St. in Bearcreek.
“In his sworn application for the warrant,” the suit continued, “Srock falsely represented himself to be acting as a reserve deputy for Carbon County,” and nobody with the department or the city informed the Carbon County sheriff or county attorney “of the warrant application at or before the time it was made.”
Srock knew that McKinney, 25, did not live in the same house as Palmer and Evans, and he did not obtain a search warrant for McKinney’s home, located behind the house named in the warrant, the suit said.
The lawsuit then laid out this narrative of what happened on the night of the raid, either late on Jan. 23 or shortly after midnight on Jan. 24:
Srock and Hibler went to McKinney’s house, shouted “Search warrant!” and then entered the house without her consent. Because Srock had applied for the warrant some hours before the incident, “he knew he was forcing his way into the wrong house.”
Srock arrested McKinney by forcing her to her knees and handcuffing her wrists behind her back, “then accused her of being affiliated with the woman who was leasing the residence which was the intended target of the search warrant.”
As Srock walked McKinney out of the house, she slipped on some ice and injured herself, after which “Srock picked her up and placed her in a locked RLPD patrol car.” McKinney later went to the Beartooth Billings Clinic and was treated for her injuries, which were not specified in the lawsuit.
The suit further says she is still being medically treated for anxiety attacks as a result of what happened that night. Meanwhile, officers searched the house named in the warrant and arrested Evans and Palmer, charging them with felony possession of dangerous drugs.
The suit said Evans and Plamer were released from jail on Jan. 25 and the case against them was dismissed by the Red Lodge city prosecutor. McKinney “fears her former neighbors may retaliate against her, wrongly thinking that she somehow caused their arrest.”
The suit lists nine counts of damage claims, including violations of McKinney’s right to privacy, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and her right to due process, as well as claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery, trespass, negligence and vicarious liability on the part of the city for the actions of its employees.
The three John Does named in the suit “are unknown officers and or executives of the City of Red Lodge who participated in, planned, approved or ratified the acts and offenses described therein,” the suit said.
In the preliminary disclosure document, McKinney’s attorneys elaborate on some of the legal theories their claims rest upon. On the question of McKinney’s right to privacy, the disclosure says, the right “to be left alone is precious. It is essential to our quality of life. No one was more aware of that than the authors of our Constitution who went to great and conspicuous lengths to preserve it in the face of what they correctly anticipated would be increasing political pressure and the developing technological ability to erode it.”
And if the invasion of someone’s privacy by a private citizen is bad, the suit said, “Invasion by the state or its agents is worse. A culture of governmental disregard for the right to privacy would be worst of all.”
And while all citizens are obliged to respect the privacy rights of others, a police officer’s obligation extends even further, the document said, since he or she is sworn to protect and defend constitutional rights.
When an officer violates those rights, the disclosure said, it “is likely to have a different, and even more harmful, emotional and psychological effect on the aggrieved citizen.”
In the letter from the county attorney to the mayor, Nixon said some of the claims made about the unprofessionalism of the operation came from an unnamed Montana Highway Patrol trooper. In a list of potential witnesses attached to the suit, one of them, William Bullock, is described as an MHP trooper.
Police Chief Hibler and Mayor Williams both declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying they were advised not to by the attorney handling the case, Sam Painter of Thompson Painter Law in Billings.
Painter could not be reached for comment.