Car reservation

BIA owes damages for officer pregnant with woman

HELEN, Mont. (AP) – The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs may be held liable for damages awarded to a Montana woman who became pregnant after an on-duty BIA agent used the threat of criminal charges to coerce her into have sex, the Montana Supreme Court has said. .

The woman, identified by the initials LB in court documents, sued former BIA officer Dana Bullcoming and her employer for the October 2015 sexual assault on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation that resulted in the birth of her son. a child, who is now 7 years old, said his lawyer. , John Heenan.

“This is about a woman who had the courage to report a federal law enforcement officer for sexually assaulting her and then had the courage to go through the whole process, including officers there to collect DNA when the child is born,” Heenan said Wednesday. She sued on behalf of people living on reservations to show “that they should have the same rights as Montananese on this issue.”

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters of Billings awarded the woman $1.6 million in damages in May 2020, but had earlier ruled the BIA could not be held responsible for paying them because, under the federal law, coercion and sex were not within the scope of Bullcoming’s duties.

The woman appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in turn asked the Montana Supreme Court to determine whether the federal agency could be held liable under state law.

Since a 2009 court ruling, Montana law has held that an employer is responsible for the actions of employees when they have a duty to provide protection, Heenan said.

On Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the facts of the case establish that “Officer Bullcoming was not, in law, acting outside the scope of his employment when he sexually assaulted LB,” wrote Judge Laurie McKinnon.

The conduct at issue here, the court wrote, “is the BIA officer’s abuse of his official authority by expressly or implicitly threatening LB with arrest and criminal prosecution with the intent and purpose of coercing him to have sex with him.

The BIA did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Heenan said he expected the case to go to court in Watters for an order holding the BIA financially responsible.

“This is a great day for Native women in Montana,” April Youpee-Roll, a registered member of the Fort Peck Tribes and an attorney who represented some Montana tribes who filed briefs in favor of LB, said in a statement. . “The Montana Supreme Court has closed the gap and provided us with the same remedy for on-duty sexual assault by law enforcement that Montana already offered our neighbors.”

In this case, LB called dispatchers to report that his mother was driving drunk after they returned from an off-reserve bar. After finding out that the woman’s mother was fine, Bullcoming went to the woman’s house in Lame Deer and asked if she had been drinking. She was at home with her two children.

He then took her in his patrol car and performed a breath test, which revealed that she was legally intoxicated and therefore in violation of a tribal law that prohibits intoxication on the southeast reservation. of Montana, according to court records.

She asked Bullcoming not to arrest her or call Tribal Social Services for fear of losing custody of her children and her job. Bullcoming replied that “something has to be done”, according to court records.

The woman asked if that meant sex and Bullcoming said yes, according to court records. The woman became pregnant.

After a DNA test confirmed that Bullcoming was the child’s father, he pleaded guilty to disenfranchising the woman using the power and authority granted to him by the BIA. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison.