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Crime & Courts

Montana Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of a rape committed by an on-duty BIA officer

 The Montana Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case at the University of Montana's Jane and George Dennison Theatre, April 15, 2022.
Freddy Monares
/
Montana Public Radio
The Montana Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case at the University of Montana's Jane and George Dennison Theatre, April 15, 2022.

The Montana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday over whether law enforcement agencies can be held liable when an on-duty officer commits sexual assault.

The question stems from a 2018 federal civil court case in which Dana Bullcoming, an on-duty Bureau of Indian Affairs officer at the time, raped and impregnated a Nothern Cheyenne woman after threatening to arrest her. The woman, identified as LB in court documents, sought to hold the federal government liable for Bullcoming’s actions.

A judge ruled in favor of the federal government. A federal appeals court later asked the Montana Supreme Court to answer the question.

During oral arguments, Timothy Bechtold, attorney for LB, said Montana agencies can be held liable when an employee sexually assaults someone, and that should also apply to federal government employees.

“Here is a chance for Montana to affect how federal law is applied in our state,” he said.

Timothy Tatarka, attorney for the federal government, argued that Bullcoming declined to do his job and acted in his own sexual interest.

The justices will issue an opinion on the matter at a later date.

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