LaMantia ID’s self in sex scandal, resigns from BPD

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Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Police patrol cars, parked outside Billings Police Department headquarters in City Hall.

Officer Paul LaMantia has resigned from the Billings Police Department after identifying himself as one of the three officers who admitted having sex with a departmental clerk on city property or while on duty.

LaMantia’s resignation was reported about 7:45 a.m. Tuesday by Jason Harris on his “Big J Show,” a radio show at FM 101.9 that features talk, interviews and music.

Paul LaMantia

Paul LaMantia

In an email from Vince Salminen, a lawyer for one of the three officers, sent at 8:36 a.m. to KTVQ and the Billings Gazette, Salminen confirmed that LaMantia, who had been a police officer since March 2009, has resigned.

“We confirm that Paul was the officer who had sex at city hall while off duty,” Salminen wrote. “He has waived his right to an appeal. Paul resigned from the police department. Lyndon Scheveck was Mr. LaMantia’s attorney.”

Salminen and Scheveck, together with Layne Scheveck, make up the Scheveck and Salminen Law firm, of Billings.

In his email, Salminen said the other two unnamed officers “are still deciding whether to pursue an appeal at this time. We will inform you on their decision by 12:00 today.”

Harris said LaMantia resigned last Tuesday or Wednesday, but that could not be confirmed.

LaMantia had been suspended for one week without pay for having sex with the clerk in the basement of City Hall in 2016, while he was off duty and she was working. Police Chief Rich St. John didn’t identify LaMantia when he confirmed the suspensions last month, but he did describe in general terms the three offenses and related discipline, and only one officer was suspended for one week.

The other two unnamed officers were suspended for two weeks, one for having sex in the basement of City Hall and one in his patrol car, both while on duty.

All three officers admitted the policy violations after their actions were reported as part of a separate investigation into drug thefts at the city’s evidence center.

LaMantia had been suspended without pay at least once before, in 2012, and was also given a “last-chance agreement” for driving an intoxicated man and woman outside city limits and leaving them on the side of the road on a cold January night.

He is also the defendant in a lawsuit accusing him of a civil rights violation, and in 2015 he was put on administrative leave after getting in a fight with his business partner, Jim Huertas, who was then a Laurel police officer. Huertas suffered injuries that required hospitalization.

Harris said he met with LaMantia last week to discuss the possibility of having the officer on his show Tuesday morning, but Harris said LaMantia’s lawyer talked him out of it. Instead, Harris said, LaMantia drafted a letter of apology and told Harris he could announce his resignation on his show.

On the show’s Facebook page, Harris posted the unsigned, undated letter that he said was written by LaMantia. In it, LaMantia said, “I would specifically like to apologize to my family, co-workers, supervisors, and the citizens of Billings that I have let down. 2016 was a year that presented me with some personal adversity and I made a poor choice in the midst of working through it. I am sorry.”

Harris said LaMantia approached him because “he likes that I’m honest, so he wanted to talk to me.”

Ever since it was reported last month that three city police officers had been disciplined for having sexual encounters with the clerk, Harris said, it was an open secret that LaMantia was one of the three. Harris said he never named LaMantia, but talked about him repeatedly on his show in a way that people who knew LaMantia would have known he was the officer being referred to.

Harris said the unnamed officer had had a string of previous problems at work and he said he described him as “a walking liability; he’s going to get us sued.”

Harris said LaMantia “listened to some of that and he said, ‘I totally get, you’re just doing your job.’”

In a hearing in Yellowstone County District Court on Monday, held to hear arguments for and against releasing the names of the three officers, Judge Donald Harris said the officers’ lawyers, in a document seeking a temporary restraining order barring release of the names, actually named the officers.

The document was filed on Friday, April 20, and the file was not sealed until the following Monday morning, by the judge originally assigned to the case, Judge Harris said, so the names were essentially public for several days before the names were ordered to be kept secret.

Harris ruled on Monday that the names should be released, but he gave lawyers for the officers 48 hours to submit arguments for what they said would be an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.

According to a “Correction Action Form” released to the Gazette by the city in 2012, LaMantia’s previous suspension was ordered after he took it upon himself to leave his assigned area and, without approval from a supervisor, meet with two people who had had several previous encounters with police officers that evening.

Officers thought the pair, Janice Whiteman and her nephew, Steve Whiteman, were trying to get arrested so they could be taken to jail. But the jail had already told officers there was no room for female detainees that night, Jan. 23, 2012.

LaMantia spoke with the pair and then drove them outside city limits on Highway 87 North and dropped them off. It was about 3 a.m. and the temperature was about 20 degrees. A Yellowstone County sheriff’s deputy found the pair 15 minutes later and reported they were “very intoxicated and stumbling into traffic.”

In addition to his suspension and last-chance agreement, LaMantia was ordered to write a letter of apology to the pair and to attend cultural diversity training.

Jason Harris said that in his conversations with LaMantia, the officer said he wanted to come on the radio show and “address all his past issues.” But he didn’t indicate that the past “issues” had anything to do with his resignation, Harris said.

It was the current case, Jason Harris said, that LaMantia felt he had to resign over.

“This one kinda got too big and he decided it wasn’t going to go away,” Harris said. He said LaMantia also appeared to be genuinely remorseful and told him he wanted to resign to spare the department and St. John any further turmoil.

In the letter posted on the “Big J Show” Facebook page, LaMantia said his decision to “litigate the issue at hand was not to evade responsibility for my actions, but to protect my family publicly. I have elected not to pursue an appeal in this matter as so (sic) those involved can continue to heal and move forward.

He also said there was “no excuse for my impulsive, ill-advised actions, and my decision to do so has caused harm to my family, friends, and department.”

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